The Big Sorrell

The Big Sorrell

“The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today”

H. Jackson Brown Jr.

The Making of a Horse

The shrill, vibrato equine voice conveyed terror and filled the barn. I stood in the sawdust and peered through the stall door at my young horse. Moments before, I led him inside. For a full year I had been seeking a five-year-old who never had any hands on it, or one yet untrained. An ideal animal was somewhat mature yet hadn’t accumulated bad habits learned from man.

My quest yielded a 16.2 hand chestnut gelding who had never been away from his mother. That was until today. Now I got a taste of his severe withdrawals.

Combined with the horror of having been hauled to a strange place and being locked into a 14×14 wooden stall, he was far from everything he was familiar with. His frantic pacing and gyrations in the stall were occasionally interrupted with additional shrill yells that took every ounce of participation from his 1200-pound frame.

Beauty was evident as I studied the physical makeup of this majestic horse. I admired the muscles that layered in ways that sculpt a being who truly is the wind manifest. My contemplation was interrupted yet again by the magnitude of his decibels. And as I observed the extent of thrust behind the yell, I saw the rhythms that supplied the sound extend all the way to his hind feet raised up on tip toes, vibrating and forcing with the same rhythm his loud expression of terror.

Soon, his demeanor included another action; he began rearing up, as if to find a way to escape over the walls. This tall horse had a neck like a giraffe and could easily reach all the extremities of the confining space. The over-head trusses that support the roof, with their characteristic geometric voids left by the gussets and support beams created concern. I watched this young horse repeatedly stand to the full extent of his stature and thread his head and neck through the triangular shapes overhead and in the nick of time, withdraw back again and return to all fours.

Souveran_training 3

As this behavior repeated amidst the sounds of terror, my thought became “Oh God, let him break his neck now rather than after I have fallen in love with him.”

I reviewed the story that preceded this scene: a miracle in many ways.

Friend Chuck Grant told me about an opportunity to work with Violet Hopkins, the riding instructor who originated the USDF Instructors Clinic in nearby Union Lake. I met with this elderly dynamo and found the first missing piece of my puzzle; she needed help around the farm and was willing to exchange board for the horse and instruction for me for my labor. She also recognized my need to thrive and agreed to an exchange for half a week at a time. This gave me time to continue sign painting in Jackson.

I loaded this horse in Reading and hauled him to Tristen Oaks. At the end of the trip, I found the canopy road that lead to the driveway of a tightly manicured place with several level and accurately delineated grass riding fields and fenced paddocks that flanked the barn complex. I unloaded the 16.2 hand gelding at Violet’s adequate facility and that led to the scene at the beginning of this story. I discovered early the next morning that my horse settled down.

Tristan Oaks had sturdy stalls with barred doors that roll efficiently open and closed. The aisles are concrete and the wash area and cross-tie area adjacent to the tack room had every possible convenience for horse maintenance during both winter and summer. Inside the tack room was a large picture window that looked out onto the large indoor arena connected to the barn complex. With this horse and me as players, the stage was set for an interesting process to begin.

With Vi’s guidance, the training process began with hand-walking, grooming, and later with lessons in lunging the horse, both on a tether, called a lunge-line, and at liberty or completely loose. Vi Stressed a foundation of calmness at the walk. Many exhausting processes followed as I learned to adhere to the philosophy of training that Vi was in my life to teach.

Although already experienced with many unique aspects of performing horse disciplines, Vi first taught me to see while lunging the horse. My mission became to observe every aspect of the horse in motion; compare both foot-falls and the regularity of rhythm along the top line to make sure the horse was supple and free.

Extensive work at the lunge with her relentless demand for me to see yet another miniscule aspect of the exterior of the moving horse accomplished two things; I began to keep looking farther than the casual observation I was accustomed to and satisfied with, and I began to develop resentment for her particular demeanor during our sessions.

The rhythm of being at Tristan Oaks for a half a week and back at Gail’s home in Jackson to pursue sign work became established. As the autumn season yielded to winter, this routine provided income, hope and my horse made progress.

The time away from Jackson actually helped Gail and I with our relationship. Stepping away allowed us to see more to appreciate in each other and allowed a longing to steep.

The spiritual path of Alcoholics Anonymous promoted my being intentional in my relationship with Gail. I used integrity as I applied myself to promote affection, regard and love. I found the love of my life and intended to apply regard to lift what we had found to promote an even higher level of union.

The fall of the year was a wonderful time in Michigan. Bright orange and yellow leaves filled the trees. Gail and I enjoyed a social function that combined sights of autumn splendor with the smells and the taste of hot spiced apple cider.

Gail was impressed by the wardrobe created for my circus performing ambitions. We had a church function to attend with the option to come in costume. Our first Halloween together we dressed up as circus performers. I wore one of my outfits and she combined accessories from her massive collection, took one of my other jackets, temporarily tucked in the excess with pins to modify it in a special way she did every time her hand touched something.

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Prior to our party, we stopped in to show off to Ken. We made quite a sight.  He took our picture. That photograph of our special time together remains a cherished memento. I kept discovering more and more about this woman I loved.

One day in autumn, Gail withdrew. Whenever I entered the house, the usual exchange was not there. I wondered what to do.  I offered comfort but she turned away. Several days went by without a word.

Finally, and suddenly, she opened up from her stance in the kitchen, “I found some old gingham at the consignment store that will be perfect for the sister-in-law in the play. Will you get some grass seed for the bare place on the terrace out front?”

“Ken has work for you out at the shop,” she reminded me.” I love the cool air at night and the crickets chirping.”

Her posture stiffened as she turned toward me, “I am actually infuriated with the treatment coming from retail management into the art department at work – Mister Keating just laughs it off but I know he is hurt.”

I remained attentive and glad to hear her voice.

“The phone just keeps ringing and ringing. It rang this afternoon and Craig wants another Coney Island sign. My schedule is filling up and I don’t want to hear about you missing another opportunity because I wasn’t here to answer the phone. I want you to think about me every once in a while, instead of always rushing out the door to accomplish something for others. I get tired of being left out and I just want to get the feeling that I belong.”

I tried to keep up with her, but the information did not appear to have any logical sequence. I found her difficult to understand as this fusion poured forth. I wanted to do the right thing, but I was getting frustrated.

“For once can you be early and ask me how I am?  Can we talk the way you talk to your AA friends? Just forget about those guys and be with me. I don’t want to be humiliated in front of the whole class anymore – I get tired of the belittling from all the rest.”

She slapped the counter with the flat of her hand, “you don’t care about how I feel – you just want to get what you want and to hell with everything else. I’m sick of it.”

I was stunned, “all you do is just sit there and glower at me. Well stay silent you son of a bitch.”

During this great purge, a feeling came up from the center of my gut and grabbed me by the back of my throat. In that spike of emotional intensity, I could relate to how a man could punch a woman. That feeling scared me. I rose and did an about-face. Without a word, I left the house and started walking down the sidewalk.

As some calm sensibility began to replace the shock, I looked at my watch and realized I could go to a meeting. I kept walking toward town. The quiet time in the midst of my fellows and getting to talk this over with my sponsor soothed my confused mind. I was learning more about this woman I love. I was being introduced to an aspect of a woman damaged in childhood by abandonment. 

I learned later how trauma affected the development of the personality of the child. These discoveries did not make me love her any less. I returned to her that evening and sought to provide what comfort I could.

I learned as the months went by that this verbal eruption coincided with a monthly biological rhythm. Understanding this source gave me access to an altruistic confidence. I became able to be with her when she purged verbally to simply listen and radiate love. When the eruption was over, I embraced her.

               “Thank you for getting that out,” I soothed, “I would not want that to stay inside.”

My regard for this wonderful woman accompanied me mid-week as I made my way back to Tristan Oaks.

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