Monday, May 5, 2014

The Word of my Life

Responsibility. It seems to be the word of my life. It drives me during the day and keeps me awake at night. It is my calling and my crux. It motivates me and drains me. Apparently, it defines me. When I was a kid, there was no higher praise than someone telling me that I was "a responsible young lady." I worked for it. I longed to hear those words. As an adult, I strive to take care of everything around me. Many people, animals and things depend on me and I feel it is my duty to tend to all of those people, animals and things. Every day, all day long, I think about schedules and deadlines and mealtimes and bank accounts. I sweat over expenses, illness, dysfunction and debt. I am debilitated by my inability to keep up with everything that I feel responsible for. I often feel like I am failing at the 'word of my life'.

When Brock and I decided to have a baby, we really had no idea what was in store for us. I remember finding out I was pregnant at the Doctor's office. I was flooded with an entirely new sense of responsibility, and it wasn't the normal kind that people experience when they discover they are pregnant.

"Johi, you're pregnant!"


"You're having a BABY!"

"Oh my God!" *happy tears*

"You know you can't ride horses when you're pregnant."

"WAIT.... what the... WHAT?????

And so my struggle with responsibility for my horses began. When Brock and I bought this property, we did not purchase it for the tiny house with the stupid closets, odd bathroom, one gutter and horrendous floor plan. We did not purchase it for the weird garage with the cracked and heaved floor and the rotting siding. We did not purchase it because we felt like pulling 5,893 fencing staples out of 135 creosote-soaked fence posts, which we later heaved out of the ground. We purchased it because it had a barn and a horse pen. We purchased it because it backed up to riding trails. We purchased it because it was a "horse property." That's it. That is what drove our decision. It was for our "boys", Gus and Prince.

And the trees. We liked the trees.

Everything Brock and I had built together, we had done with our common passion, our horses, at the nucleus. Yet suddenly our world was shifting. What were we going to do with our lives next?

We kept the horses, who became yard ornaments. I shoveled manure as my pregnant belly grew. I felt guilt every time my horses looked at me and nickered expectantly, as if they were asking, "Can we go out for a ride today?"

When my baby arrived, I was ecstatic. I had my body to myself and I couldn't wait to ride again. But carrying my infant in the saddle with me on top of a 16 hand, 1,000 pound flight animal seemed... oh, I don't know.... moderately irresponsible.

Then I started paying a sitter to watch my child so that I could ride the horses that I paid to keep in my backyard. It was all very expensive. So was the new baby. The stress was building.

All the while, my hand would often find itself running lightly over the scar on my head. The scar that was put there when I was 20 months old. The scar from being kicked in the head by a "backyard horse" at my grandparent's house. I would think about my baby learning to walk and the stress of simply being in the backyard with him. What if he toddled into the horse pen? The only thing that size those animals were accustomed to was Red Dog, who made it her personal job to annoy them, often causing them to kick at her.

My stress level went from 'high' to 'off the charts'. My overwhelming responsibility for my child and my horses were competing. My energy was depleted and I felt like a failure. I didn't know what to do.

My answer came when I discovered I was pregnant again.

Brock and I, unable to consider selling our horses, sent them to work at my family's livery stable.  I was grateful that we did not have to sell them to strangers. We could even go and ride them in the summer months.

Still, in no way was this ideal for me. I grew up working at the stable and I knew the environment. While the horses are well-cared for and the barn rules are strict, the work is hard and the riders are basically ignorant. My gentle giants were about to work their asses off in the mountains carrying all kinds of riders ranging from "I don't want to pull his head out of the grass because I will hurt him" to "Can we run them up the mountain?"
It was not the environment I wished for my personal horses, the ones that I fed supplements and paid out thousands of dollars for training. The ones that were sensitive to leg pressure and liked their frequent baths in the grass during the summer. The ones that I loved and wanted to care for, look at, ride, touch and talk to- every single day of my life.

A part of me died the day we loaded them up on the trailer.

Then the economy crashed and Brock's business took a nose dive. Reality was sinking in. I had to check out from my emotions as we sold our horse trailer. We walked away from years of memories of horse camping. We said farewell to countless weekends spent customizing it with a cedar lined living quarters. I bid adieu to the pin-up cowgirl curtains that I sewed. I had even lined them... and I don't sew.

I threw myself into motherhood- which obviously came with more responsibility than ever. I tried not to think about my horses, because when I did I just felt sad, angry, frustrated and a little sick to my stomach.

We inherited some antique ponies in their 40's and they occupied the horse pen. They were small and gentle and considerably less money and work. We were thrilled that the boys could have their own horses! We cared for them and all their special needs. Little Joe got lice, as old equines do, and I worked hard to rid him of it. Peanut had foundered years ago, and we successfully kept him sound. We loved them and cried when they left.

Peanut and Little Joe- both in their 40's.

Then we inherited two more ponies. Duke was foundered and in his 20's. Blizzard was perfect- just grumpy with other ponies at the stable. Again, they were small and gentle. We were fairly successful in keeping Duke sound. Blizzard, an Appaloosa, went blind in one eye because of his genetics. The kids loved them, yet showed little self-motivation towards wanting to ride. Blizzard, with the onset of his blindness, became spooky and unsafe on the trail.

Thing 2 and Duke.

Duke and Blizzard, fresh after their first baths of the spring.

Our lives had gone from being ours to belonging to our kids. We graciously tried to expose them to our interests and they did not care. All they wanted was to play with Daddy's tools, take turns on the tire horse swing and tie each other up with ropes they dug out of the barn. It was what it was. You can't force interests.

Meanwhile at the livery, Prince got ear mites, which were treated. But he became head shy, which seemed to stay. Then after three years of working, my horse, Gus, developed laminitis. That was the final straw. The time had come for the boys to come home. Money was still tight. We were (are) without a trailer and a truck big enough to haul two giant horses. Our barn and property needed (need) a lot of work to get back into proper condition for large animals. But, dammit, we were bringing the boys home, come hell or high water.

Last week, in the middle of a five day wind storm, our beloved horses blew in from Iowa. My parents graciously delivered them fresh off the pasture. They were lean, shedding and full of ticks. But they were HOME. Home to stay. Home to get their personalized backyard care. Home to get shod every eight weeks at $120 per horse. Home to eat a bale of $8-$13 hay, plus grain and supplements, per day. Home to share the barn/pen rotation with a foundered pony and a blind pony. Home to be barked at by Red Dog. Home to produce manure to clean, providing me with my daily upper body workout and potentially a few lower back blowouts. Home, so that I once again I can be fully responsible for them. And I couldn't be happier... or more stressed out.

And I can't stop singing "The boys are back in town!"

Welcome home, boys!

P.S. We are looking for a pony/horse to replace Blizzard so that everyone can ride- we're still hoping to stoke the horse interest within our kids. We would like a gelding around 50" tall that is friendly with people, gentle and broke to ride. Blizzard will be looking for a new home because of our property size limitations- if anyone wants the sweetest pony in the world, email me. He's an easy keeper with good feet. And yes, I've already shed many tears over this little pony because I love him. He's like a big dog.


  1. Seeing the pictures last week I had no idea the story and emotion behind them. Now I do. Hugs to you...hugs to your boys (but no ticks, pls)!! You'll make it all work -- and work out well -- because that's what you do. xo

    1. Thanks lady. This post was simmering beneath the surface all week. It's so good to have them back and I have removed all the ticks I found. They've also had baths and the farrier and vet have been called. Now I will just start checking stuff off the list... and find more hay for the barn. ;)

  2. Yay, congrats! I had to make the tough decision to leave my old man (I've been calling him 30 for a couple years now, so let's go with 32 yrs) in Austin when we moved back north because he wasn't going to survive a 1500 mile trailer ride. I couldn't have done it if I hadn't been sure it was the very best decision for him - he now has 40+ acres to graze and two mini donkeys to boss around, and the farm shares a driveway with a Christmas tree farm, so in the winter, he gets tons of visitors, which he loves. And now, fingers crossed, I'll be buying my next horse this week...

    1. I thought about you when I wrote this post and wondered about your old horse. It sounds like he received a wonderful retirement.
      Best of luck with your next horse purchase! I know you are a wonderful horse owner and anything you buy will be lucky to have you!

  3. What is so sweet (and tearful) about this post is that it really isn't about horses. It's about the choices and sacrifices we make when we first marry and then have children. The part of ourselves that we gladly (but often reluctantly) give away to make room for the new ones we welcome into our lives as husbands, sons and daughters. The important thing in my book (as my kids are now 22 and 20) is to not let too much get away, so that as those kids grow up and live their own lives, we can have ours back!

    1. It is one of the struggles of parenthood, for sure. Where is the line?

  4. So glad the boys are home, and loved reading this. I had no idea what went into owning and caring for horses!

    1. Thank you- I'm so glad they are home, too.

  5. I can only imagine the joy you must feel with your boys home. I know everything will work out perfectly.

    Mad Hugs!!!


    1. Thanks! We are finding our groove again. ;)

  6. I wish I could take Blizzard! He was always my favourite pony. I am glad you have Prince and Gus back. I am sure they will be much happier this summer not carrying dudes up the Mtn.

    1. I love Blizzard. He is seriously the sweetest.
      The boys seem very happy to be here.

  7. I wish I could take Blizzard! He was always my favourite pony. I am glad you have Prince and Gus back. I am sure they will be much happier this summer not carrying dudes up the Mtn.