Thursday, October 30, 2014

Okay, I'm Ready To Share

A month ago I had a post all ready to share with y'all about what I'd been doing with Griffin since his first LD attempt where his greenie brain emerged in a whole new way at the beginning of August. Because if you didn't notice, he kind of dropped out of the picture for a long time there.

Here's what that post entailed --

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So I've been holding back on sharing this bit of news with social media for well over a month. I wanted to work through the training, restore the cart, and get him going before I whispered a word to social media about it.

Let's back up - last year I got a bug up my butt to drive Griffin. I floundered around the internet for a time researching it, did some of the ground driving work with him, searched for tack, gawked at the cost, and then ultimately got caught up in Q's training and forgot about driving altogether for awhile. Occasionally, I'd peruse equipment again, but the cost of it always threw me off.

And then Mike entered the picture and riding two horses was a lot easier so Griffin's work US began anew in January. (I really struggle to ride BOTH horses on the same trails all the time. It's one thing to go out and do a workout with one of them, but to have to do double that? Gah. I don't like seeing the same thing again and again and again. With Mike's butt to borrow, riding both of them and getting workouts in became SO much easier.) With advances in riding, I forgot about the driving for awhile more.

As summer dragged on and riding both horses fell almost solely back into my hands (and my butt) due to Mike's work schedule, I began to dream again about driving Griffin for cross training. (And Griffin was chosen instead of Q because Q and a cart...HAHAHAHAHA. That's a fun joke. Spooky horse who hates things near her hiney with a cart...HAHA.) I had a new idea as far as pursuing equipment went that might lead me to a cheaper route, one I could afford.

Finding the Harness

I queried Alison for help with what to look for and found some equipment for a reasonable price on Craigslist. I then sent photos of these leads to my neighbors to verify as I knew they'd been involved in driving their Belgian mules once upon a time. Well, lo and behold, they fired back a response along the lines of, "Looks good, but don't buy anything yet. We have a light horse harness you can borrow that will probably work for Griffin. Come out and we'll check it out this week."

*ding ding ding* We have a winner.

I went out to see this harness the week following Griffin's failed first go at an LD. We found all of the pieces to it, I cleaned it up, and hustled out to the barn to fit it to the grey horse. Definitely would work!

Finding the Cart

The cart and I. I was excited.
Around the same week the harness was locked in, I found a cart option on Craigslist - I actually found several within 4 hours driving distance, but this one was the closest and it was the cheapest. I forwarded it along to my neighbors to glean their opinion of it.

They thought it definitely had potential, but noted we'd need to see it in person. The best time for them to go was the weekend I'd planned to be visiting Nicole and Carlos though, so it was decided that they would go and look anyway, and if it was good, they'd bring it home.

My neighbor texted me while I was standing in the barn post-ride with Nicole on one of the days of my visit to say that it was in great shape beyond needing a new paint job and tires, so they got it! Sweet!

She also told me the following story about it: 

The guy who owned it used to drive it around with a friend ages ago, but it had mostly been hanging in his barn for 35 years gathering dust - hence wanting to sell it. The gentleman is in his early 70s now, hospice care was at his home as his wife was dying (sadface). He's an old Italian guy though, and apparently looked absolutely AMAZING for his age. 

He asked about what they wanted to do with the cart when they agreed they'd take it. My neighbors noted that they were picking it up for a friend, a girl named Liz. Well, upon hearing my name the old guy teared up. It turns out, the friend he used to drive the cart all over with was named Liz. He and she drove it all over town back in the day. When her father passed, she gave it to this Italian gentleman to remember she and her father. He was so thrilled to be passing it along to another young lady named Liz. 

And so, the cart became mine. I'll attribute it to kismet.

It truly did need new tires and paint, but those were simple and easy. One trip to WalMart led to having tires that Mike put on for me, and one trip to Sherwin Williams afforded the necessary primer and paint. Now all that was left was prepping the damn thing for painting! Fortunately, Mike is quite the handy man and has had oodles of painting gigs, so he had everything I needed to prep and strip the cart for painting.

And so I prepped and stripped and chipped and sanded on and off for a week or so. And right when I was ready to paint, super humid weather settled in for a week or more. Not good for painting! And so I waited for a week or more, and then was finally able to paint the cart over a 3 day period of good weather with the help of a friend towards the end.


From the moment I realized I wanted to do this for REAL this time, I started pursuing training ideas and methods re: ground driving.

Fortunately, Andrea and O had just begun their journey into driving, so I had her blog to spur my idea train.

Additionally, Griffin's newly surfaced issues US lent themselves to pursuing more ground
driving-type activities in an attempt to resolve the problems. More fate playing a hand at this driving thing? Mayhaps.

And so we did double long lining, which Griffin excelled at and took with stride as if he'd been doing it all his life. And then we did ground driving, something we'd pursued in the past, but hadn't touched in ages. And Griffin excelled at that too, remaining completely unbothered with whatever I requested. He demonstrated some small issues with halting and remaining so, but with one solid day's session focused on Halt Means Halt, we had it.

The day Mike replaced the tires on the cart (Sept. 1), we took the cart to the barn to be absolutely certain it would fit with everything (horse, harness, etc.) prior to further work prepping it to paint. I'd made no plans to actually drive Griffin that day, but hey, you give a mouse a cookie....

Leading and watching him for any sign of stress or concern. He was totally fine!
I walked him all around the cart for a time for him to see it and sniff it. Then Mike pulled the cart around and Griffin and I walked with him, behind him, in front of him, and around him as he did so. And then Mike held Griffin and talked to him as I hooked the cart up.

Mike and I were totally more concerned about the whole thing than Griffin was at this point. He was all, "Guyssss, what's the big deal?"

And so, with everything seemingly fitted appropriately, we backed Griffin up with the cart attached so we could turn to walk around the barnyard (because hooking him up so we could just attain forward movement first thing wasn't really in our brains). We proceeded to lead him around the barnyard pulling the cart, talking to him telling him how good he was, which led to me driving him from the ground behind the cart while Mike led him, which led to Mike taking a more passive leading role while I drove from behind, which led to me getting in the cart with Mike in an active leading role, which led to me driving with Mike in a passive leading role, which finally led to me just driving him with Mike walking alongside - no lead rope attached.

No helmet, but So Totally Unplanned.
Griffin was totally unperturbed by the entire thing. His ears swiveled taking everything in, but he never took a false step. Mike even had a moment to step away from his walk-alongside role to snap some photos!

A very exciting teaser for me as I would continue to focus on prepping and painting the cart for another several weeks!

And then last week, I finally got the cart out to the barn to stay. (An epic journey that involved me driving Mike's big truck (a standard) all on my own (I've never drove a standard in that capacity ever!), and to top it off, getting the cart loaded and unloaded from the truck ON MY OWN.)

I still have a few things to tweak with the shaft horns on the cart, but they aren't the kind of thing that limits our use of it too much. I am still able to spend time hooking Griffin up to the cart, leading him with the cart, ground driving him from behind the cart, and even sitting in the cart and driving.

It depends on the day and how he's acting as to what we do. I'm trying to be slow and give him opportunities to succeed, y'know? I have loose plans when I arrive each day, but nothing in stone. I try to go with the flow and how Griffin is acting/feeling.

It's so incredibly fun though! I can't wait to share more as we proceed with our journey. I have these picturesque scenes in my mind of driving down the one lane country roads that few cars are ever on along the river with fall foliage in its peak. It's far-reaching, I know, but it's a really awesome picture in my head, and a really fun goal to slowly work towards.

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I was so ready to share and so excited to share. I even went so far as to share photos about him driving to Facebook! But I wanted to wait for just a few more sessions so I could give even more updates and provide more  photos for y'all. 

But then something really horrible happened.

A cart wreck.

On September 29 I went out to drive Griffin around sans cart first, and then had plans to hook the cart up and just lead him around with it. 

You see, he'd been kind of wiggy lately about things and I didn't want him to have to think too much on things that night. I just wanted him to focus on walking around with me while having the cart hooked up. I figured if it went really well, maybe I'd continue the ground driving I started the night with but while walking behind the cart. 

Best laid plans, eh?

To rehash what happened exactly, I'm going to share what I wrote to Hannah from The Longest Format. She was [un]fortunate enough to have dropped me a check-in message on Facebook the morning after. I was finally coming out of the shock of the whole thing enough that I spewed the following to her --

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Last night was really bad and it's still weighing on me though and I'm not sure when I'll be able to write about it or anything.

The whole month has been kind of off. I don't know what it is. It's no one thing. I just feel like I have no direction - especially with the horses. I'm proceeding with endurance with Q because it makes sense. And it's pretty good, really. The whole chronic scratches thing was really trying, but we're moving on and that is really good. We had a really thrilling ride Sunday that gave me hope and really put me in a great place mentally - better place than I'd been all month.

Then last night I went out and finally finished the cart I've been using with my driving pursuits with Griffin. (The restoration process has been slow and there were some very minor things I had left to complete for it to truly be *done*.) 

And after some premptive driving around sans cart, I hooked it up. He was so good - as usual. I had a goal to lead him around with it on and then drive from the ground behind the cart - no more. He'd had some sticky spots the last time we drove and I just wanted to give him some positive experiences to deal with, y'know?

But then as I led him around the side of the barn with the cart I turned to look at him as he walked right behind my shoulder and noticed a second before it happened that he was too close to the barn and the cart would probably clip did.

The sound and the jarring of the cart scared him - as it would most horses. And he TOOK OFF. I just dodged out of the way, helpless. I watched him and the cart careening around the barnyard in terror. He went around the other side and out of sight while I realized I may need to find cover and I made moves to slip in the back door of the barn. As I was doing so he reappeared.....sans cart....still scared...pieces of harness flapping everywhere.

I knew he wouldn't calm down immediately, so I let him run the fenceline where the other horses were while I walked to the far side of the barn to see what had become of the cart and the rest of the harness.

The arm of one of the shafts was snapped in two. The pieces of harness that weren't on Griffin were attached to the cart in various places.

Griffin had calmed down in the moments it took me to get a visual of the cart. I walked to him, murmuring things softly. Telling him it was okay and it wasn't his fault. I managed to undo the rest of the harness while he stood shaking. I led him to the barn and tied him to stand while I went back to gather the cart pieces and harness pieces.

He was resting one hind foot when I got back to him, significantly calmer, too. I made him move out on a circle in both directions to double check for any injury, fearful. He was fine.

Everything is okay. And I can probably fix the cart and the harness - though it will take a lot more time.

It was the raw force of the incident though. It was terrifying. And now I have this horrible fear in my gut unlike anything I've experienced in a long time and I'm not sure what I'm going to do about it.

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And so. Here we are. A month after I sent that message. A month and a day after the wreck. 
And I'm ready to share it with you guys. 

So there it is.

Obviously, Griffin is okay. Obviously, I've moved forward with him in the interim and had some really great rides.

And the harness still isn't completely fixed - but it's in progress. And the cart is still lying at the barn in pieces - but the men have devised multiple plans to fix it and promise they will do it as soon as I give the word. And Griffin walks around and by the cart without fear or apprehension. 

But he will eventually have to wear the harness again; we'll confront his potential demons with that then. And when potential demons have been conquered, we'll confront the next set of demons that may come with the cart. And it may be long and slow, but we'll get through it. 

Sure, I don't have to introduce him back to any of it. But I was having such fun with it! And he really seemed to be, too! So we'll take things slow, and we'll see how it goes. And we may never drive outside of a fenced area due to fears, but that's okay. We were having fun with what we were doing and I'd like to get that back if possible.

Please be kind in the comments. This has been a really huge hurdle for me to work through mentally. I wanted to write it all up in a concise place though. I wanted to share for those on Facebook who knew we were driving but never saw another mention of it after a month's time. I wanted the few who knew how hard it was for me, those I reached out to, to see that things are getting better and brighter.

Just another hiccup in this journey. Just another hiccup. We're moving on. 

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