My year of finding magic

My hopes for 2019 © 2021 Sasha Hoffman

Chapter 17

At the beginning of 2019, I bought a little wall calendar. In January, I wrote at the top:

My year of finding magic in the world & in my life – and making magic happen.

Plant the seed, care for it, and it will grow.

I was starting to feel like I needed more direction in my life; not just passively floating through and waiting for things to happen. So, I took a couple of actions.

First, I signed up for a clinic at a ranch in the Cascade Mountains called “Women in the Wilderness.” It was a weekend course on mountain trail packing, obstacles, barefoot hoof care, and Dutch oven cooking taught by a woman with an adventurous history. I knew I wouldn’t have Raven ready to ride by the time the course was to take place in May, so I signed up to use one of the ranch’s horses. It would give me something to look forward to through the dark winter months, and give me a new adventure that would help me learn skills I wanted to have – I’d always dreamed of camping and packing out with my own horse someday. I didn’t have the few hundred dollars in my account for the deposit, so I said screw it and put it on a credit card. It was a way to bring magic and joy back into my life, and I knew I needed it.

Second, I decided to start a routine with Raven. I committed to getting up and being at the barn at 7 a.m. to work with her at least three times a week, sometimes first turning her out with Ryker and then practicing groundwork, grooming, and tacking up. I only rode her once that January, at the end of the month. I wasn’t pushing the riding, since we still seemed to have enough trouble with a few things on the ground. Throughout February and March, I was still trying to get through her herd-bound behavior – her becoming upset and out of control when I would lead her alone away from her paddock beside Ryker. He would become upset too, calling for her and running back and forth, which would cause her to panic. I was also working on leading her calmly back to her paddock from the barn, where she would rush ahead of me or run over me when she spooked.

Raven was very food-motivated, so I tried getting her attention on me by rewarding with carrot pieces. We worked on the separation anxiety and leaving Ryker by asking her to focus on me and move her hindquarters or halt and stand, with carrot rewards. She seemed to respond well to this and we saw some improvement; it broke up her focus on the heightened emotions of leaving her buddy and motivated her more to respond to the things I asked her to do. It was a little bit of bribery, but I was trying to be creative with how to get her to focus on me and not rely solely on other horses for comfort or direction. She became a little calmer even after leaving Ryker the more we practiced.

But with Raven, it seemed to always be one step forward, two steps back in our training. Some days she was cooperative, and then the next day she would panic at leaving Ryker, spinning around and pushing her shoulder into me, as if I wasn’t even there. Days like that were so frustrating, especially because her hysterical behavior made me scared to take her out; she was 900 pounds of panic at the end of a cotton lead rope and trying to calm her and myself at the same time was challenging and upsetting. And every time we had an explosion or a setback, it felt like my direct failure. Everything that happened to her was a reflection of my self-worth or my ability, and it crushed me sometimes. I wasn’t blaming her, I was blaming myself and my inadequacy. Sometimes I just hated myself so much, but that had started long before I ever saw Raven. All of the negative feelings and thoughts I had for myself were being drawn out by my work with Raven, and it was painful to be confronted with them, out in the open. It made me want to stay home instead of going to the barn to work with her. I never wanted to sell her because of it, but it was a struggle to feel motivated to get up in the morning and go work with her when there were glimmers of progress one day, then frustrating setbacks for several more days. There were times when I would just turn her out in the indoor arena, with her galloping around hysterically screaming for Ryker, while I sat against the wall and cried. I would walk her back to her paddock, trying small things like asking her to stop when I stopped, or backing up, but she would cooperate for a brief time then get bored or annoyed with me and run into my space. I didn’t even exist to her; there was no trust on either side. She didn’t trust me enough where she could relax and go with me, and I didn’t trust her not to hurt me when she went into a panic or spooked. I would go home depressed and upset, feeling way out of my depth.

It was during those rough times that I needed to glimpse the beauty and magic in this entire journey. And Raven would still show me that. Even when it would have been easier to give up like I always did when something became hard, there was still this pull to keep trying. To not give up. I felt determination surface within me after I would go home, feel crappy about the issues I had with Raven, but then think about how to approach it the next time, and get back out there. Even though our interaction was sometimes strained and ugly, there were elements of beauty and communication breaking through too. It was hard to see when in the middle of it, and little by little, we were working through a conversation; yet we were at a point where we still weren’t quite hearing each other, and it would take a few big fights to see clearly where we stood with each other.

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