True North

We all have an inner compass. It’s located in our gut which, like our brain is loaded with neurotransmitters. Our heads, however, are garrulous and weighty with their own self importance. Our gut speaks humbly and quietly. That’s why we often ignore it. At a steep price! Block out that inner GPS and you will deviate from your own true north, missing your destination. At best, that’s annoying and expensive. At worst, it’s heartbreaking and risky, especially when it comes to horses.  So I try to listen to that inner voice at all times.

But I get busy and harried. I worry daily about the MMSC’s bottom line. I see every invoice and strive to cut costs while maintaining the highest standards in all that we do with and for our horses. When a horse gets adopted, I feel an enormous pressure to get it shipped out so it stops incurring costs. Besides I have horses waiting to come in. I have people waiting for new horses. Grant donors want to see how many horses you have moved through your program in a year. Board members do too. (Or at least, I want the board members to be happy!) The voices in my head surge like a mighty chorus drowning out the inner small, still one despite my best intentions. This week was the perfect example. Thankfully, a horse and young girl came to my inner voice’s rescue, saving me from a disturbing deviation.

In early April we had a visit from a mother and her fourteen year old daughter who needed to make a transition from ponies to her first horse. The trainer came too to make sure that she got the absolutely right horse, a confidence building mount with scope. The young girl had been researching off track Thoroughbreds and was heart bound to adopt one. There was one at the MMSC that she had had her eye on Jazz Fest (“Jay-Z). In fact, based on what she had seen on the website, in her mind he was already hers. But as it so often happens, when she rode him, they had no karma.

So she tried two others, Double Minded (“Dublin”) and Pain Giver (“Rondo"). Dublin (left) was the perfect transition for a young person going from a pony to a horse, kind and reliable, but limited in scope. 

Rondo (right)  came to the MMSC fully schooled. He jumped 3.6" He did lead changes. He had been to shows. He came off the track as a two year old and was scooped up by a talented teenaged rider named Sam. They  grew up together over the ensuing four years. Once, out of school, however, Sam couldn’t give Rondo the time and care he deserved, so she gave him to her aunt who had a riding school where, Lilly, our interim barn manager, was working. On the surface it seemed a good plan: Sam could keep track of Rondo and ride him when visiting. But Rondo didn’t take to being a school horse. He is a sensitive, monogamous one-rider-only kind of horse. Multiple riders of varying levels flustered and annoyed him. He grew tense, defensive, and peevish. Lilly, Sam, and Sam’s aunt knew that he needed a different solution. So he came to the MMSC to find his new forever person.

As fate would have it, when the fourteen year old started with Rondo, the heavens opened up.  She tried valiantly to ride in the driving rain but when lightening flashed nearby, she had to give up. It wasn’t much of a trial.

I knew that. But I thought she rode him well, and despite horrible weather, he was very good with her, which was a really good sign.  On the other hand, Rondo had shadows. He had come to the MMSC needing emotional and mental stability. It would take time and finesse to bond with him. There was no telling when or how his angst or anger might resurge and be expressed. That made him a tricky fit for anyone, most especially a 14 year old girl. 

She would need to try him again, but that was hard because she lived twelve hours away on the East Coast. I had to wait another month before they could return to the MMSC. The trainer rode Jay-Z and all was well. The fourteen year old got on Rondo and all hell broke loose. He jigged, spooked, skittered and bucked.  She blanched, not because she was scared.  She was devastated, convinced that he had cast his die: He didn’t like her.

I turned to Rondo’s original owner, Sam, who had come that day to the MMSC at my request to help if need be. 

“Can you get on your horse and see what’s going on?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said.

Rondo was much worse with Sam on his back, bucking, lunging, and bolting.

She pulled him up promptly. “Something is not right! Maybe it’s this young ladie's saddle?”

So we replaced it with Sam’s saddle. I noticed that Rondo flinched when I touched the ribs on his right side. He kicked out when I ran my hand under his belly on the left.  I doubted Sam’s saddle would change anything. It didn’t. He was in pain.

“Let’s put him on the theraplate with the revitavet on his back,” I suggested.

Twenty minutes later, observing his calmer demeanor and softer eye after these therapies, I decided to have Sam get back on him with a bareback pad to gauge where we were. 

He was a different horse. Next we put the young lady's saddle on just to see if that was the deterring factor. No. He was the old Rondo. No antics. Willing. Kind.

“You want to ride him?” I asked the girl. She thought about it and gave a tentative yes. Rondo was a gentleman with her. But I was sure there was more to it as his behavior had been so abnormal.
“We have given him a reprieve, but I dont think he's fixed I told the trio. "I am going to call the chiropractor to see if he can come right now. If he can come soon, might you delay your trip back to the East Coast to see what he says?” I asked.

They agreed and waited until 5 PM. The chiropractor’s pronouncement came as no surprise: “He’s a skeletal train wreck!” Rondo’s ribcage was dropped and his sternum malaligned, as if he had received a blow to the back from a rambunctious playmate in the field. When his ribcage was jolted back into place, the horse let out a groan of relief that was audible throughout the barn.

“Leave him up tonight. Turn him out by himself for the next few days. Don’t ride him for a bit,” the chiropractor instructed.

After he left, the four of us sat on the floor of the shed row and talked about what to do next. The young girl wanted to stay the night and ride Rondo in the morning, but because of their tight schedule and the chiropractor’s instructions, that couldn’t happen. 

I asked if they could return the next weekend. That was out of the cards.

“How about if I send you some videos of Rondo when he is in good shape? Then maybe we can ship him to you if you decide you want him?”

We all settled on that. The girl fell silent, her face a study of worry and disappointment. I noticed, but let my brain override the observation. I was desperate to make room for new horses. 

So when the time was right--meaning when Rondo was in good shape, no rain, right rider, etc. we got the video and sent it on. Mother and trainer agreed that he had greatly improved.

 “I have to bring other horses in and begin reschooling them. I am behind schedule! I need the two horses out of here next week.”  They understood.

Then roadblocks began to surface. They couldn’t find a shipper. The timing was wrong for them because of a horse show. The expense of transit seemed too high. The worries about the fit of the pair surfaced. The trainer suggested a 60 day trial. 

I got frustrated. What was going on?   A “de-railed” feeling rumbled in my gut. Finally, it hit me! I had overridden my inner voice! 

So that night on my way home I called the trainer.

“Hey, I’ve had a realization. You and I both know that Rondo is a lovely horse. He has the scope to take your student a long way. She rode him well both times and he was good with her, despite the extenuating circumstances--the thunderstorm, the pain. It  could be a perfect fit.”

“Correct,” she said, matter-of-factly.  

“But I have left out a crucial piece in this process. I want everyone who adopts a horse from the MMSC to have pinwheels of excitement in their eyes. But that’s not the case here. Which is why you suggested a 60 day trial period. And why your aruswnr was so keen to come back to try him a third time.  I finally get it. I apologize. I was feeling harried by the MMSC’s needs. But what I feel and I need doesn’t matter. Only your student’s and Rondo’s needs and feelings do."


“Please believe me when I say that my intentions are always to be horse centered. But the day to day pressures of running a non profit like this one where I am tending to sentient beings with daily needs and huge expenses wear me down. Taking the road less traveled is hard. Short cuts are enticing. I am tempted to settle. But thanks to my noisy gut, I realize it would be wrong of me to put Rondo on that long trailer ride without the assurance that this young lady is prepared to be his partner, come what may. Who wants to walk down the aisle on a 60 day trial?  I can’t do that to her or to Rondo.  She has to come back to try him again to make sure it's love. Do you think that can happen?"

“I’ll talk to them. Yes, that is what should happen,” she said.

I hung up the phone, in peace. Forget about the expenses, the grant numbers, or my pleasing the board. One has to fight the currents and winds to stay the course. By finally listening to my inner compass, I was, once again, heading true north.

Cheery bye,

Why is garrulous highlighted?

Because it is  the Blog Word of the Day:

 Help us reach our goal of 112,000 total blog visitors this year! Join our Word of the Day contest and you could be entered in a grand prize drawing to win a $500 horse credit at the MMSC or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Secretariat’s jockey Ron Turcotte! Simply read the blog every Sunday and find the highlighted Word of the Day. Then write a sentence using the word and submit it to for a chance to be entered to win! Please read the full contest details below before submitting an entry.
  • Blogs will be posted on Sundays. A chosen word will be highlighted within each blog post.
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