This story starts with Bob Dylan, as many stories have. It starts with my blog post titled Story Behind the Photo. As much as I would like to say that blog post’s not so happy, but conclusive and optimistic ending turned out exactly as you’d imagined it had, I cannot. Read on.
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This summer I had the chance to attend a horse clinic with my beloved Blackberry. The clinic was being put on by John Soles, a local legend in horse training. Blackberry hadn’t left the property in probably eight years, so this was a big adventure for my big, fat, wonderful horse. I couldn’t wait. My cellphone died so I didn’t get to be there when Blackberry was loaded into the horse trailer, again for the first time in many years. From what I heard it didn’t bother him one bit.
I arrived at the Fort Steele farm the next day and saw Blackberry in the first pen. His ears were pricked, his nostrils flared and he was running as fast as he could around the tiny pen. As soon as I poked my head out of the door of the truck, I whistled to him like I always do, his ears pricked in my direction and he slid to a stop by the gate. The anxiety washed off him, and he waited for me to arrive with treats. I fixed a halter and lead to Blackberry and lead him to be tied up. There was so much activity around: horses neighing, another horse freaking out and pulling back on his lead, chickens clucking and a creek gurgling near by. Blackberry’s head curled in to meet my hip, as if nothing was happening.
Maybe it was him being unsure about everything, but he was perfect. I stroked his back and rubbed his ears as I brushed him. When it came to saddle up and head to the ring, Blackberry was fine. It’s as if he’d been there a million times. We did ground work first, and John instantly identified that although Blackberry was calm and happy about the whole ordeal, he didn’t have any respect for me as a rider. He watched as Blackberry used his shoulder to put pressure on me to show me who was boss. I had always known this about Blackberry but I never knew how to fix it.
John showed us how to teach your horse respect for your personal space by wiggling a lead and releasing pressure once he did as asked. We pushed them over and worked on lunging techniques and by the end of it all, Blackberry was walking in a straight line, out of my space. When we mounted up, Blackberry loved going through the pool noodles tied above the arena while the other horses baulked and spooked at the near sight of them.
We ate lunch in the shade as the chickens foraged around us for scraps we dropped. Not exactly sanitary but it was an experience in farm living. I had a bag of fresh cherries but a few had gone bad so I tossed them to the girls. They clucked appreciatively bef0re fighting over the left over meat around the pit. Blackberry waited nearby, snoozing with his saddle tied loose around his belly.
In the afternoon we tried out the horse obstacles. Blackberry was most worried about a bright blue kids pool, but he loved the little wooden stage thing. We galloped through the creek flowing on the property and Blackberry loved the splashes of water on his belly. The end of the day came too soon, and exhausted and dirty I headed home.
The next day we were back in the arena doing our best to familiarize our horses with scary items and desensitizing them. Blackberry didn’t care about a plastic bag on the end of a riding crop. A tarp draped over his back was fine and I even trotted dragging it over him. John was getting stumped, determined to find me a project as he worked with the more timid horses. He found me an old tire with a rope tied to it, and passed it over. I thought nothing of it, but as soon as it started dragging behind us, Blackberry bolted and crowhopped. I dropped the tire: I had a challenge. for the next hour, I walked Blackberry around and around the arena, dragging the tire. He hated every second. He would puff up his nose and back away quickly, hiding behind me. Eventually he began to look for reassurance from me. He would nudge my hands holding the rope, and take a step forward. We’d touch it together, me with my foot, him with his puffed nose.
Eventually I got it so he would put his head in the tire, and I could drag it around him. He never settled completely, but after several hours he was at least not jumping out of his skin at the sight of it. The final part of the trail ride is the best part: the trail ride. Leaving Jon’s place though, you have to climb a nearly vertical hill to access the trails at the top of a bluff. I was excited. Blackberry loved climbing hills. We got to it, and I gave him his head. He leapt forward into a gallop and bounded up the hill like a kid. I held on for dear life: thank god I was riding western or I think he would have left me behind. I jumped and sprang about halfway up, and his and my breathing ws getting heavier and heavier. It was tough work for both of us! He stopped for a rest, his sides heaving. I patted him and stayed in a hill climbing position, slightly forward to have a good centre of gravity. I let Blackberry decide when he was ready, and again he bounded forward nearly leaving me in the dust.
We reached the top of the hill, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a smile that wide on my face. I patted his neck and praised him for his effort as he caught his breath. Blackie is a bit, well, chubby, so it was quite the workout for him. I heard the clattering of hooves behind me, and turned to see the next horses racing up after me. Suddenly, a bright white aura began to spread over my right eye.
It couldn’t be. I was not getting a migraine.
I blinked and tried to make it go away but it grew larger and began to cover the rest of my vision. I was getting a migraine. I had about a half an hour to get into a dark room, swallow my prescription medication and pass out before the pain set in. I’ve had migraine since I was a kid, and the situation is always the same. But usually I’m not stranded in the middle of a beautiful forest with the Rocky Mountain peaking out behind them, on my trusty horse who just galloped up a mean hill for me. I’m not having the time of my life on a horse I love that was being so good and excited to do everything I asked, that I couldn’t take him home and abandon him in the pen.
I made my decision: I was going to push on. The trail took us down a rocky logging road and into a mosquito-filled pond that Blackberry gleefully pawed at, again feeling the spray of water on his hot chest and belly. I couldn’t see very much of it, and I had to trust that Blackberry would go along with everyone. He did. He was perfect. I even started to wonder if he knew there was something wrong with me. My hands rested against his withers and he had his head. Usually on trail rides Blackberry would try to bite the riders beside us, but he stayed calm, keeping his head where it belonged and easily walking along looking at the sights. He must have known his rider was ill. He had to.
We rode back into the trees and along the top of the bluff. I knew below us there were hoodoos (firm sand that erodes into beautiful peaks) and a breathtaking view of the valley and Mount Fisher. My head began to pound. My vision was back but I felt dizzy and nausious. Jenn’s horse was freaking out at every new sight, but Jon had traded to help get the young horse use to things.
If I’d been alone or at home in bed, I would have been moaning or crying from the pain. I just tried to relax and hold on to Blackberry for a little bit of strength. Finally, we came to gate, and the view was spilling out before us. I was so glad I hadn’t turned around, but the pain was unbearable. Jon asked if we wanted to continue or head back, and I grudgingly requested to head back to the stable. Once we were back, I put Blackberry away as fast as possible and took off after saying my thank yous. I got home, took my pill and passed out with the light blocked out as much as possible in my bedroom.
A few hours later I woke up. My head was still pounding. Bob Dylan would take to the stage in about four hours. I remembered getting the tickets and how sick I was, and I started to cry. I gave up my ticket to my sister, and instead stayed on the couch watching the Olympic closing ceremonies. My Grandma called and chered me up. She didn’t know Bob Dylan was still alive, and when I told her I was watching Freddie Mercury on the ceremonies, she thought he was still alive. We laughed together, and the phone call made me feel marginally better.
So I missed Bob Dylan. When Mom came home from the concert she tried to tell me it was awful, that they couldn’t hear him etc. I’m sure those things were true, but I knew they had an amazing time.
At least I got to spend the day with my horse. I learned he has my back, which is a good trait in a horse.