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The joy of animal ownership is earnedPosted Wednesday, August 1, 2012, at 2:54 PM
When I was a little girl, I thought animal ownership was easy.
I asked for a dog and eventually, after realizing I wasn't giving up, my mother relented. We ended up with a mixed beagle puppy named Schuyler. After we took her to the vet and learned he was indeed a she (city people don't think to check these things), we changed her name to Schuyla.
I never remember feeding her, walking her or making sure she had water. Apparently, that work fell to my Mom, even though I distinctly remember during the begging process promising to take care of her "all by myself."
Next, I brought home Runner, a stray cat I found along a road while on a five-mile run during high school track practice. She purred the entire time I jogged back to school with her in my arms, hence the name.
I may have helped care for her some, yet somehow she stayed healthy while I lived away most of four years during college. She kept her rather fat-cat figure, even as I moved to Marshall. I left her at home, not wanting to take an aging and mostly inside-cat to the farm.
Obviously, again, my Mom took care of her.
So I guess it is no wonder I never got the horse I begged for Christmas after Christmas.
Living in the suburbs, my mom had a good answer, "You can't have a horse, because you don't live on a farm."
So, of course, it was my mother's fault when I asked for a horse my first Christmas on the farm.
After all, just like I thought I knew about dogs and cats, I thought I knew about horses. I spent nearly every Saturday at Benjamin Stables riding a horse for an hour. It cost $5, my week's allowance. All that lifetime experience had me ready for horse ownership.
Or so I thought.
My first foray into horse ownership turned into a disaster. I blamed the horse.
But looking back, I realize it probably wasn't the horse, it was the owner.
Taking care of animals is much harder when you are doing it yourself. And like most things, just "loving" horses and spending an hour a week following others on a trail does not prepare you for animal ownership. Nor does it make you an expert.
Fast forward to 20-plus years later.
I still longed for a horse I could ride. Each year covering the Houston E. Mull Cattle Drive just reaffirmed my need for my own horse.
Although I still knew little about horses, I had learned a thing or two about taking care of animals.
More than 12 years of helping with show calves had taught me a lot about animals, their behaviors and what it takes to acclimate them to new environments. I learned even the tamest calf could take off running if they sensed danger -- real or imagined.
Through trial and error, I've learned animals, especially farm animals, aren't Disney characters. I've realized training is good, but prevention, and more than a little bit of caution, are important.
I learned training a calf to show, or a horse to ride takes patience and persistence. I learned unlike a four-wheeler or a car, you can't ignore a horse (or a show calf) for weeks at a time and still expect them to perform perfectly.
So this time, when I found a gentle horse, I knew it meant a lot of work.
I knew she would have to learn to trust me and vice versa.
I knew I would have to feed her, brush her and pay attention to her everyday.
No one was going to do it for me.
So this year, again, I asked for a horse for Christmas.
And lo and behold, along came Nugget. She was sweet, but scared, after moving to a new home.
I think she sensed my lack of horsemanship skills and my unhealthy fear of falling. Although I wore a helmet to protect me, visions of broken arms and legs still whirled in my head.
Like we did with show cattle, I took baby steps. I had help learning to care for and ride her. I also checked the Internet for answers and advice.
We've had a few bumps and bruises along the way, both hers and mine. I learned how to hang on and she learned I wasn't giving up easily.
I began to realize her job was to sense danger and mine was to hold on, even when a flushed quail caused her to jump and run. I also decided with my head protected, broken bones would heal.
But the joy of riding my horse would be worth the work.
At first we took one step forward and three steps backward. Some days we still do. Eventually, somewhere along the way, though, we both started to trust each other.
I'm glad we did.
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