Wee Little Voices

Ahhh, the voices of small children. Barely audible in the best of cases. The upper part of my “speech banana” is pretty much gone.

While walking the wee little doggie today a young boy was with the horse concession near the beach. (Are they on vacation today?) He asked me something. I might have walked by and pretended not to hear, but I had heard something and I’m not rude by nature.

He might have asked about the dog, many people do comment on the wee little doggie as she’s quite the looker. He might have asked if I wanted to rent a horse. He might have said many things. I had one thing I could say: No hablo español. We will chalk it up to not speaking the language rather than not being able to lip read a little boy speaking Spanish.

The horses, sadly, were undernourished and not well-groomed at all. I feel sorry for the horses I see at the riding concessions. I used to have horses as a child and teen and spent many hours grooming them and making sure they had sufficient food and water. Different cultures, different values.


Pogo-Stick the Not-Wonder Horse

The first time I laid eyes on her I was looking for a colt or filly to raise and finish out myself using  gentle techniques I was learning from horse training books.  I had my eye on a beautiful bay stud. This was the last visit to look for a colt or filly, but Dad and I had pretty much agreed on the bay.

The conditions the mare and filly were kept in were deplorable.  The dam was an Arabian – a hot blooded horse – who was a broken wreck of a thing – skinny, cowed, terrified.  Her eyes rolled and there were healing slash marks on her sides from a whip.  The filly hadn’t been beaten but she was no less terrified and out of control.  Those were the days before animal rights organizations intervened and my Dad was not yet a judge.  I wanted to beat the living shit of out of the “owner” to see how he liked it.

The little bay stud was gentle, hand raised, would walk up and nuzzle you, expecting nothing but goodness.  The  filly shied away, bit, and kicked, her eyes rolling in fear.  It was a clear choice for Dad.  “It’s the bay.”  I shook my head.  “Can I get both of them?”  I pointed to the dam and the filly, “Both of THOSE?”  Dad looked at me like I was insane, and in a way, I suppose I was.  I’d never attempted to deal with an abused horse before.  It was way out of my league.  “You don’t want that filly.  She’s ruined.”

Two weeks later the filly came to live with us.  Yes, I am stubborn.   I guess Dad figured it would teach me a lesson. What it taught me, was that patience, compassion, endurance and  kindness alone cannot fix all the problems created by early abuse.  I don’t know how that horrible man got her into the trailer, but when she got out in the pasture with my Welsh pony and Quarter Horse mare she was a wild and terrified thing.  Fortunately, my mare and pony were very calm and great role models.

The man would not sell the brood mare – I will give Dad this, he tried. I often wondered about who got the lovely bay Quarter Horse stallion.  He was a great horse.  The best horse for me.  But the filly needed me.  He didn’t. He would go to a great home.

It took a month of bouncing grain in a pan for the horses and having the other two greedily consume almost all of it  before I could lure the little one. I’d have to pour her portion on the ground, then move the others away so she could scavenge.

I kept bouncing grain in a pan and leaving offerings.  I offered apples and carrots. I waited without moving, fending off the other two horses with small motions as they almost trampled me in their eagerness to get her goodies.

I curried the mare and the pony, brushed out manes and tails, removed mosquitoes and biting flies from their ears and dabbed them with insect repellent.  No one got hurt.  Life was a lazy dream in the pasture with the little brook full of clean, cool water and thick with grass as well as one thickly canopied tree for shade.  The little filly got used to standing between the pony and the mare, tails swishing flies.

One day I walked up with the curry comb and finishing brush and started working on Patches, the ancient Welsh Pony who was round as an old oak barrel because he was so fat and lazy and well-loved. I scratched his ears and gave him a carrot out of my bag of goodies and started in brushing – and Zuleika (her registered Arab name) didn’t panic and take off.  She just stood next to him, her tail lazily swishing flies off his face as his did the same for her.

After a few minutes I discreetly offered a carrot around his tail… and she TOOK IT!  I just kept brushing Patches and handed Golden a carrot like nothing unusual was going on.  I wanted to run around waving my hands in the air and scream, “She’s accepted me!”

I’d like to say life with Pogo-stick was easy after that.  It wasn’t.  She was destroyed by a monster – a sub-human who should have been taken out and shot for how he treated horses.  If there is a hell, there is a special place for people like him.  I knew she’d never be “my horse.” I’d probably almost never ride her, if I ever could; but one thing I could do was keep her safe.

In time, she learned that I could use a mudder (mud removing rubber brush), curry comb, and finishing brush and she would not be injured.  Our farrier was a kind man who understood abused horses and Mr. Robertson helped me round her up and keep her quiet while he trimmed her feet to keep her healthy.  He always praised her even when she was so afraid that he had to hobble her front (or back) feet to keep her quiet.  I always had her head, holding her in place, touching her, speaking softly, keeping her attention on me instead of him. And sometimes she bit the snot out of me if I wasn’t careful.  Over time it became less traumatic for her, but never an easy thing.

Eventually, I could (carefully) pick up a hoof to check her for stones in the frog.  However, she had to be short tied or she’d remove part of my posterior with her teeth.  Fear biting was a huge problem with her.  She could have seriously injured me as she grew – or someone else.  I didn’t want to have to have her destroyed.

In the end I had to resort to aversive training to stop the biting.  It just about killed me, but I used the hot potato method since nothing else had worked.

Boiled potatoes were put on a towel on target areas and strapped down with gauze with a long sleeve shirt over that and then I gave her the opportunity to bite that area.  She thought I was careless and lazy so she took it.  She jerked back like she’d been stung – which she had, by something very HOT. I  cried inside to see her with a seared upper palate, but it grieved me less than putting her down would have done.  I was desperate.  I was all out of options.  There were no “Horse Whisperers.”   However, Pogo was a quick learner when it came to searing pain,  and rarely ever bit a human again.  When she did,  it was  a nip not a full-out savage bite from the fear and terror zone.  A burned palate heals. Death is not so easily overcome.

Over the years Pogo grew into a tall, lanky, half-Arab/half Thoroughbred mare. With that combination of bloodlines she was hot-blooded in spades.  By then she was not so crazy and dangerous that she was a danger to the general public. She rarely nipped unless she felt really threatened, and she’d stopped kicking much after some creative hobbling Mr. Robertson taught me that convinced her kicking people equalled almost tipping over.  I am glad our farrier was willing to help me with her since Dad figured she was a waste of horse skin and pretty much ignored her.

I was unable to hand gentle her to ride.  Everything that worked with other horses made her crazy.  She was overcome with terror and it converted to rage. I read every book, used every trick, asked for hints and tips from every good horseman I knew.  Finally I got a guy who did horse breaking to come over and let her crow hop around a corral with him doing the rodeo cowboy thing.  No spurs.  He was just a nice cocklebur, since he knew her history.  Eventually, she gave up crow hopping and let him ride her.  Not long after, I could ride her, but never entirely safely.

Pogo got her name from the fact she had such a horrible gait.  She was like riding a Pogo-stick if you got past a gentle walk.  Her trot was abysmal.  Her canter only slightly better.  She had trouble changing leads and teaching her was out of the question – I was lucky to just be astride.  She had an awesome gallop.  Since I did mostly trotting and cantering I was pondering an English saddle and posting with her, but she just never got ridden that much.  She broke a snaffle bit and ran off (with me on her)  finally stopping when she was too exhausted to go further.  I’m lucky she didn’t kill us both — and I never told my folks about my harrowing, out of control ride.  It would have been the end of her.  It was at that point I put away all the bridles, put hackamores on all my horses, and never looked back. I still think hackamores are more humane than bridles and a horse can’t spit out a bit that is not there.

In the end there was a guy in the Canyon County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse who heard about Pogo.  He was a big guy, well over 6 feet and he was strong enough to deal with her.  He had  experience with horses who were headstrong and skittish, and he could ride her.  After I was pretty much grown and gone off to college, Pogo went to live in her “forever home” and learned to do precision riding.  Whenever I saw her she looked great. Plus she LOOKED happy and content, which counts for a lot!

What does this have to do with being Hard of Hearing or Deaf?  I don’t know that it does.  But I do know that being a HoH kid I knew what it was like to feel not understand what was going on, what people wanted from me, and feeling alone.

I knew that I’d rather have a horse I could never ride than see her suffer any more.  I knew that I was the right human for her, even if she wasn’t the right horse for me, because I would give her the time and attention and care she needed rather than making demands.  Maybe I wished someone other than my mother and older brother had done for me what I did for her.

Lest you think she was totally dysfunctional, she was a great herd member.  She respected Golden as the leader.  She was a great auntie when Gemini came along.  She was pals with Patches, even though she was twice his size by the time she was grown.  She just didn’t have a lot of use for humans.  I can understand why.

Maybe being on the outside looking in as a HoH kid made me willing to try an enormous, overwhelming task like this.  Or maybe I am just soft in the head, like Dad said.  Either could be right.  Maybe both are.  I just know that even though Dad considered her a waste of hay and grain, that she was one of my greatest teachers in so many ways.

She’s long since gone, of course.  They all are.  Only I remain to remember it all.  The dogs. the horses, the chickens, gleaning grain from the local fields to feed my horses, gathering sugar beets for them, feeding them the sweet white bull rush bottoms, dandelion blossoms, just the whole nine yards of life in rural Idaho.   

I only wish I’d found her earlier; other than that, I would not change a moment.  Yes, I’d have had more fun with the bay, but I’d have never learned life’s lessons about what happens when animals are abused.  And I had my beloved Golden Butterfly as my main horse to ride and bond with.

Golden was sweet and easy and loving – having been raised by the awesome Laurie Tipton.  Patches had raised dozens of children and was about as knowledgeable and headstrong a horse as there ever was – also good natured.  Gemi was my sweet, sweet boy who was spoiled rotten and eventually became a barrel racer.

Only Pogo absolutely NEEDED someone to understand her and help her transform from an angry, terrified horse to a content, if not quite happy,  horse.

Are there horses in “heaven?” If not, I want to go to where the critters are – the dogs, the horses, the barn cats, the toads and frogs and all the other creatures I grew up with.