Growing Pains

Who doesn’t love a newborn foal? The soft muzzles, the delicate bones, the innocence... The sweetness is hard to resist. Sometimes you blink and poof, they’re full grown. Just like that, all that simple, pure youth disappears.

I think I’m probably a minority. Most people don’t have the opportunity to produce horses from the very first breath. Much less the second generation of that first made, not bought, horse. They get the lovely foal photos for transformation Tuesdays, and they get to hope that the breeder did an excellent job with the basic manners while they move on to the heavy lifting under saddle. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that. Every horse deserves a chance at confidence and success, and every person deserves to meet their heart horse.

But I can’t help but think of what a massive part of their horses’ lives they were not a part of. Relinquishing those responsibilities, to teach a youngster the ways of the world, is, to me, a huge stressor. Maybe I’m a control freak? No, scratch that. I know I am. I want to know everything about them to defuse any possible situation in the future. What the best way of structuring training is. Never let them question who has their best interests at heart. And behind all the foal photos people love, there is a tremendous amount of work and love put in to lay the foundation.

I say that not as a cautionary warning, but more of a statement of the apparent facts. People tend to think working with foals is all happiness and light when it, honestly, it can feel like the opposite. The smallness doesn’t suddenly make them easier to handle, especially when you’re the first one to teach them about those things that will impact their lives later. In fact, it makes them harder to manage.

I got a little lucky. Joy was the ultimate trial by fire. She made me look at the world around me in a way I hadn’t seen before. Not necessarily from a “prey animal” perspective but from the heart of preparation. I was continually searching for what could cause potential trouble to prepare to manage or defuse the situation. Some things came easy, like bathing and picking feet. Other things, like tying and manageable reactions in hand, were some of the toughest lessons I had to learn to help educate. Joy was my Satan child, and in return for the constant anxiety she gave me as a young horse, she surprised me with a saint.

I expected Posey to be a little... rougher around the edges. More like her mom. Instead, I couldn’t have been luckier with the brain that sits between her two monster sized ears. She’s a thinker; a listener. She’s straightforward and doesn’t ask questions. It’s a breath of fresh air, especially when I had prepared myself for a little asshole colt with a bit of too much of his mom in him for 11 months. However, none of that means she’s not tough to manage.

Posey’s innately social nature is a significant change. In all honestly, Joy’s reliance upon me in all situations and her natural standoffish nature towards humanity made me feel a little special. It sounds silly, but I finally had this beautiful warmblood – this natural talent – and feeling like her person in every way made me feel needed. I can attribute that to a lot of reasons, most not horse related and rooted in my personal life, but her difficulty to manage me feel this maternal, overwhelming sense of protection. Especially since she had been exposed to plenty of things. Her idiosyncrasies were not products of “bubble wrapping.” That protection came in the form of doing anything just to keep her composed and taking drastic measures to make sure those around her, who weren’t quite as versed in sensitive hotheads as they seemed to think, knew there was a potential liability. The older we both got, the more I realized she needed me because I needed her. Both of us needed that reassurance that us, two backyard grown goons with 20x60 dreams, had each other’s backs in a world where we both were wracked with insecurities. She was (and still is) my best friend, and as we grew, there was less hand-holding and more “this is your time” – in the arena and on the ground. Thankfully, we both matured.

Then here comes this little ray of sunshine! All things good and kind, Posey is overly trusting. She’s like the little kid who hasn’t quite grasped stranger danger yet. It’s this precious belief that every person has her best interest at heart. Everyone that has met her says she’s the friendliest and most easy to handle foal. Sure, she has the focus of a 5-month-old, but she partners that with the patience of Job. That’s really, REALLY difficult not to take for granted. Never on purpose, but it’s exceptionally easy to see how someone with incorrect intentions could warp her willingness into pressure. A lesson learned from her hock trouble is that when she’s overwhelmed and confused, she shuts down. Yes, anyone could force her to do anything, but this early on, I’m trying to preserve that desire to please and not exploit it. I have to remind myself that just because the world isn’t as treacherous to her as it was to Joy, doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve the same amount of support and guidance.

Kind of sounds like parenting, doesn’t it? Well, this is about as close to having children as I want to get. But it is an excellent way to self-reflect. Buck Brannaman was the one to say “your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes, you will.” Having these three horses, Apple, Joy, and Posey, all reflect different stages of my personal growth and mental health. More on that later, haha? No matter what, they've each made me take a deep look at my reactions and non actions to be a not just a better horse-woman, but a better person. For that, and for all the growth to come, I'm grateful beyond belief for each and every growing pain.