Dressage is Partnership in More Ways than on the Horse

I have spent my adult life working as a stay at home mom raising five children. However gratifying and purposeful, I never had the satisfaction of knowing I had completed anything. I fell into bed each night willing to ignore all that was left undone. Before I was a mother, I was an ambitious dancer and considered myself an artist. I gave it up after my freshman year as a dance major at UofM. I lost the passion to compete for roles in more competitive environments. I just wanted a normal life, not one that was consumed by one thing. When I discovered dressage in my early forties, it awakened much of what I loved about dancing but it was so much better! The more I learned the more devoted to dressage I became.

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Ali Hacking behind my house.

In comparison to parenting youngsters, now that I run Rouxtano Farm full time, taking care of eight horses feels like play. At four o’clock, after everyone is in their stalls satisfied with grain, hay and fresh water, and the barn is clean we call it a good day. It’s no bother to deliver another small meal after six, and then share night check duties with the family before we all go to bed. The sleep that comes after a day spent outdoors working with the horses is deep and wonderful.

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Ali coached Jack at the Pinehurst show.

We share the keeping our horses at home with Ali Perkins. I met Ali in 2018 when Jack participated in Lendon Gray’s WIT program in Wellington Florida. Ali was the barn manager for 18 riders for three months. I taught the fitness for the kids, so she and I were able to work together each morning. I knew by the time we all said good-bye and the season was finished that if I ever had a farm of my own I wanted Ali to help me manage it. Our way of working together was fun and comfortable.

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Ali and Sante in Williamston warming up for the Grand Prix

A few months later we bought our 24 acres in Hillsborough NC so I promptly sent a message to Ali to consider a position with us. I knew for sure I didn’t want to learn to run a farm by myself. I not only needed help with the labor but with thinking through decisions to help develop horses who were safe, healthy and happy. It was a very good day when she accepted the job and agreed to move away from her family in Maine to join us in North Carolina. (Thank you Heidi for sharing her.)

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Ali brought Sante with her to be a solid member of our herd. She has successfully shown the Grand Prix with him for over a year and as he is twenty he only gets stronger and better at his job under her care. She is also USDF certified to teach up to first level. She graduated University as a school teacher and though she has spent some time teaching in schools, she seems far happier teaching dressage. Jack, Kira and I love it when she helps us with our daily rides. She is also able to teach others here on our horses as well as travel in the community to teach. I want her to develop her training business and be successful in this area.

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Some may say 8 horses couldn’t be that much work. But Ali and I like to care for them with a very high standard. At the end of the day if feels like we served a herd of thirty. My favorite aspect of working with Ali is that our standard of care is compatible. We aim to have high performance dressage horses at their peak. That takes a committed team to achieve.

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Aside from the horse care, our farm has been in constant repair mode. It wasn’t used as an equestrian property in over eight years. The stalls were rusted and full of furniture when I first saw it.  We had fences crumbling, water pipes bursting, electrical problems, manure management issues, slippery mud, trees down, horrible biting horse chasing bugs, and hay that turned to mold in the high humidity. Every day I would arrive at the barn to ask, “What now?”  because something wasn’t operating as it should. I could have had a handy man on payroll he was here so consistently. To compound our challenges we endured the wettest season anyone around here can remember. There were two hurricanes that came through. We had one big snow storm that promptly turned to ice rain. We had a serious tornado come very close to our farm. We feel like we have passed some initiation test because we are still riding every day.

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The day our arena cover was delivered.

Ali was by my side through all the trials of establishing Rouxtano Farm. We developed a good system of communication and team work.   I doubt anyone can out work Ali. She can accomplish ten tasks in the time it takes most people to do three. As we got to know the farm and it’s own personality as it interacted with the weather one thing became clear to us. Our arena wasn’t sustainable with as much rain as we were getting. Six months passed and we never once rode on a dry arena. Eventually the saturation caused the clay base to expand and make holes in it. This is treacherous for our fancy dressage horses. It was impossible to find someone who could help us repair the holes. I had to beg to get a contractor out here. Over the course of three months we had to repair it three times, meanwhile we rode around cones and worried a foot would sink and injure our horse. Finally, I looked at my husband with those eyes, the ones that implore for a better solution. So we signed the contract to build a roof over the arena. It was months of construction that pushed us out of riding in the arena. We were so thankful to our neighbor Danielle who allowed us to go next door and ride under her covered arena while ours was being built. Just in time for the heat, it is up and we are beyond happy with it. This farm is beginning to realize the vision I had for it.

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After weeks and weeks of electricians we had power!

I have always enjoyed working with people in their mid-twenties as they begin to shape their adult life goals into action. My eldest son is the same age as Ali and there have been times where he lived far away and others were nearby who mentored and guided his decisions. In dressage, there are programs to guide riders to age 25, and then there doesn’t seem to be much to help transition them to become professional trainers and teachers. They find themselves on their own and this is not an easy endeavor to manage. To earn a living at this is difficult without burning out physically in a short time. To train horses, teach lessons, compete, and manage a barn will consume every waking minute. The only job that should do that is parenting. It seems they either slave themselves as working students for a trainer who can improve their riding or they hope to find a sponsor to give them horses to train. Some have to teach even though they despise it. Who wants to learn from someone who doesn’t love teaching? I don’t.

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Kira and Ali out for a trail ride together.

When we formulated the vision for Rouxtano Farm, before it even had a name, I wanted to create a job so a young trainer could gain experience running a farm, teaching, and training, and still have time to have some normal life activities. I understand this is a first step in Ali’s career and I don’t expect to keep her forever. I hope to work together for as long as it benefits her life. I believe though this position is a great starting point for so many good quality young riders who want to make the transition to professionals. I would do it again. I wouldn’t hesitate to recruit future barn managers from Lendon’s WIT program. You have to be disciplined and detail oriented to have her approval and support. For now, I’m in the sweet spot with Ali where we work very well together, and we both enjoy it. She is helping my riding improve every week and I’m most grateful for that guidance. My new mare is challenging and I couldn’t have persevered with good success without her help. I am thankful to be able to give her equestrian career a solid start. As I get older it is less about what I can accomplish and more about helping others have opportunity to realize dreams and goals. That brings me deep satisfaction.

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Benson

I hoped Ali and I could develop an environment at Rouxtano Farm where people want to be here either to help us develop and maintain dressage horses, or participate in learning about dressage. I am always happiest when enthusiasts arrive to either observe a lesson Patrick is giving, or to take a lesson with Ali on one of our horses. I am so passionate about providing an environment where excellent dressage can be practiced. Though a rider and horse are alone as they learn to move in harmony together, it takes a wide community to create the conditions where it is possible. For me, it is a practice in art as we help horse and rider unite and attempt to achieve harmony.

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Without our vets, farriers, barn help, landscapers, arena builders, trainers, nutritionists, neighbors, body work therapists, and especially my generous supportive husband, what we try to do in dressage cannot create the precise and beautiful movement shared between horse and rider.  And I love to observe the magical improvements manifest because of the care we give. This is great fun. The little girl in me who loved ballet has found a new way to dance.

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Find and Protect the Ride Time

Someone told me recently, when you buy a farm you ride your tractor not your horse. This was after I spent two hours dragging the arena and I was beginning to fear she was right.  It is true, the riding gets squeezed into a corner of the day when there are too many projects moving at once. The details of relocating to a new state have been the biggest bandit for my ride time. There are regular medical road blocks as well. I lose motivation when the weather is terrible and I only want to get under a blanket with tea and a book. (Of course I don’t, I go out in it and get it done with a lot of whining.) If there is a crisis upending my emotional life, well it is difficult to have a good ride. When I hear, “mom!” I usually have to drop what I’m doing and go to the rescue. These events can flow into one another from the minute I awake until I flop into bed.

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Sunrise

I determined when I welcomed my first horse into my life that our relationship time together is extraordinarily beneficial for me. My horse has the unique ability to enter my deep inner life and reveal some rough edges needing smoothed, or some raw bits that need healing. If a person told me what my horse is able to say to me I would be offended and break off our relationship, but I will receive it from my horse. He also can help me feel so young, alive and happy. With him I feel balanced, present, grounded, and self-aware.  The riding presents personal challenges I otherwise wouldn’t experience and this is how I continue to grow into the person I’d like to be, more courageous, patient, compassionate, kind, selfless, gentle, and self-controlled. It also brings a thrill of achievement and accomplishment. I believe God allows me to partner with a horse as His way of guiding, teaching and revealing to me who I am and how I can continue to develop. Also, I can experience childlike characteristics, and this comes with the idea of play. Play and creativity get choked out of my adult life, but they are essential to feeling alive and open. I feel vulnerable when my horse holds up a mirror to my life and shows me my shortcomings. But there’s a safety here to be real and flawed, no judgement, and no rush to change. I feel accepted, a deep sense of belonging.

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When life swirls in powerful gusts, it becomes more of a struggle to maintain the play in my relationship with my horses. There’s a temptation to speed through the time spent together and get only into the grit of the most important riding issue. When I have to do that, there is less satisfaction, it is less fulfilling and I have essentially cheated myself from the good that comes from getting lost in time with my horse partner. I am developing a strategy to be more intentional to prevent this loss. I welcome your ideas as well!

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Jack is hopelessly in love with Benson. It is a treat to see.

There are some guidelines I am trying to cultivate daily playfulness while being present with my horses. I like to protect time to groom thoroughly before every ride. This is when my mind lets go of the day’s worries and I tune into my friendship. It works every time but if I rush the grooming I bring my tensions into the saddle. I make sure I stretch my body and do some core exercises before going to the barn. It’s a challenge to be playful when my body is tight. As I tack up I go through a checklist and promise myself a few rules of play. I breathe and focus my attention on my horse. I ask contractors who are working if they need anything before I mount, and I also directly ask them to respect my ride time by not interrupting it. Most people don’t know the deep concentration riding requires, and once broken it is difficult to recreate. I refuse any phone calls or appointments at this time. I usually don’t bring my phone when I ride. That alone feels like the greatest luxury. I try to strip expectations for the ride and approach it as a “let’s see what we have here and now” and then I build an experience together from a listening approach. I ask my horse a lot of questions as we warm up and if the answers are good we go forward. If not, we address them until the answer is correct.  I aim to concentrate completely on the intimate communication we share while riding and incorporate the instruction and training ideas to help us have more harmony together.

Most importantly I listen more than I ask of my horse. She tells me everything I need to know about her if I am quiet enough to hear. It’s remarkable to hear what she says. She is noisy and much of my work is helping her mind relax and trust what I am asking her to do is not a bad idea.

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Kira having a lesson on Rudy

A bad ride is always my fault.It usually starts with unrealistic expectations of my partner. It’s the best way to ruin my whole day. It is entirely generous of my equine partner to put up with me on those days and I can be overcome with regret and disappointment. It is far better to prevent a bad ride by following the process I know works so well. But that takes time, presence, self control, discipline and a commitment. Slowing down, being present, and playful also provides the medicine I seek so I can endure the harder parts of my day.

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I melt when I walk by and see Benson and Rudy grooming each other. It is good to have a friend.

A playful approach to riding keeps me connected to my true self that is inquisitive, curious, creative and eager to grow. A little play each day helps me be more open and vulnerable for the people in my life. It keeps me from feeling buried by problems and challenges. I am so thankful to God for providing me with this extraordinary way to feel His gifts in my life, and his gentle probes towards growing me in a way that pleases Him. I have to remember I deserve a chunk of my day to belong to me so I can connect with who I am. How do you fit the ride time into your busy life? I’d love to hear more ideas.

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when the barn looks like this it is a good day to hit the trails and get away.

My Transition from “Horse Boarder” to “Farm Owner”

We have been keeping horses at home for over six months. I knew the first year would be filled with on the job training requiring not only extra reserves of humor but also resources. What a shocking depth those two will go when it comes to setting up a horse farm. This lifestyle isn’t for every horse owner, but I knew early on, for sure, it is what I was made to do. Never mind I sat on a horse for the first time in my early forties, I understood it wasn’t just a hobby for me but a lifestyle I desired that suited my inner self. I am a unique brand of crazy and I have the most incredible husband who supports it. (Thank you honey. I really blindsided you with this horse thing.)

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Once I understood my goal to run a barn of my own, I began to get educated on every possible aspect I could learn about horse keeping. This is a secondary subject to my primary goal of learning to ride. I observed hay quality, watering practices, manure management, footing for the riding, what to do in extreme weather, turnout, stall management, and basic vet care. It took me almost a year of practice to confidently be able to give a shot in the vein. But I knew if I owned a farm I couldn’t wait for a vet to arrive if our horses colicked and needed an intravenous shot of banamine. I need to know how. I can do it now, no sweat.

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Try as I might, equine nutrition eluded me for years and years. Everyone I talked to had conflicting answers. This is a subject worthy of its own post, and I’ll save the shame and shock of the story for that event. I will say though, I have finally found not only the feed that makes our horses perform at their optimal best, but with it the consultant who can guide me as the grass changes, or through allergy season, strange reactions, and hay fluctuations. I finally have my person I can trust who analyzes my horse’s activity, feed, grass, water and can advise to keep their weight and energy optimal.

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The real challenge of keeping horses at home surprised me. I can walk from my house to the barn ten times a day without thinking about it and that’s the best part of having them home. It is fun to see them at all hours of the day. I can look out my windows and see them grazing in a pasture. When they need special veterinary treatments, I am here to do the several doses or wraps a day, and that’s convenient. When it rains, we can hand walk as necessary several times a day. We switched them to five feedings a day but that’s not a bother because I’m happy to go up and deliver a meal.86IAj%iyQySxftuGlj33cQ

But what I miss is how I could escape the business of life and go to the barn.  I lost a real refuge from the noise of life when I stopped being a boarder. I could be alone with my equine best friend, set aside hours where I am unavailable to the repairmen, delivery men, contractors, and even my family. I had somewhere to go that was “away”.  It was a daily “do not disburb” sign on my life. And the only thing I had to think about at the barn was relationship with my horse and riding. Now, when the arena develops sink holes from too much rain, it is my problem! When a hurricane is blowing through the barn I am responsible for the safety of five horses. When the arena is too wet to ride on I have to find a new place to go temporarily. When the pastures are too muddy and will ruin the hooves I have to make that call. It is MY neighbors who get disturbed when the poop sits too long on the roads. (We always return to scoop it up but that’s hard to do when mounted.) When fences are broken, I have to find the guy to repair them.

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Here’s a great big kiss, hug and thank you to all the boarding barns out there who care for all these details so boarders can enjoy the refuge of coming to the barn and being with their horses to escape the everyday drains of life. May I be bold and tell all of you boarders, you really could never afford what it really costs to keep your horse safe, fed, clean, and exercised? Most owners are barely breaking even so you can enjoy these privileges. I am embarrassed by the times I felt entitled to better, or more for my horses while boarding. Now that I know the toll it takes on the time, mind, and resources of a barn owner I regret my former boarding expectations. They give you a real gift when their prices are affordable.

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they say this year has had more rain than ever…but being my first year… I have a hard time believing this…

I could spend all day every day on the management aspects of having a farm for only five horses! I have to smack myself on the head once in a while and say, create the refuge here. Find the way to keep the riding the priority for myself amidst all the management details. Some days it is a real struggle to find the window of time where I can be alone with my horses, groom them as if I were free, and ride them to my heart’s content without a single worry in my life. I do it because living a life of no regret is one of my goals. I bought a farm to keep them home so I can improve our relationship, not be distracted from it.

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I can’t count how many times I have paid good money for my instructor to come teach me how to ride my new mare and I fight myself not to spend most of the ride perturbed about the soft spot in my arena because of the excessive rain, fearful of how impossible it is to secure a reapir man for this problem. Or I am distracted by the workers making too much commotion during my one hour a week I want to learn. It didn’t take me long to get my stern face with my hand on my hips and chase everyone away at noon on Wednesday so I could enjoy my quiet farm, learn to ride, and get a good list of homework for the next week. At 11:30 on Wednesdays I begin waving my arms and pointing my finger towards the end of the driveway, shouting “out” if necessary.

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I knew I had a problem when I was happier riding in my neighbor’s arena than my own.

 

I rise early to have coffee with my husband before he leaves in the dark to enjoy his day as a business man.  I dress warm, leash up two dogs and traipse up to the barn in the dark to say good morning to our horses. It is my favorite time of day when they greet me in the morning and the day is about to begin. During this time alone in the barn feeding them I prepare my day by committing to when I will be there to devote myself undivided to the relationship with my equine partners. It is a struggle still to ride two every day. I am hopeful it will become normal and easier in my schedule. Thankfully, Ali has helped me with Rudy these many months while I learn about Gigi. When our construction projects wind down and life on the farm becomes normal I am hopeful riding two or even three will be effortless and as free as I always imagined life as a horse farm owner would be.

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It’s not there yet. If you are a boarder I suggest you hug the owner of your property and thank them over and over for providing you with a refuge to enjoy your horse. If it isn’t perfect enough for you, then be quiet and find a way to help out. It’s almost impossible to get enough help to provide for the care of these animals. Expect less, help more and be thankful that someone is providing a safe environment for your horses where you can find refuge.

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We have three extra stalls on my farm. I have two full time helpers not including Jack and myself to care for five horses. And we provide the most excellent environment between the four of us. It is almost time to make decisions about the three extra stalls. I think I want to experiment with one excellent lesson horse, one young developing horse for sales, and one boarder who is willing to pay for what we offer here. There might only be one of those in NC, I hope they find us. I know I offer the highest quality of care available so I believe I must not compromise and give it away. The learning of being a horse farm owner seems to be a never-ending education. That’s the best part of engaging life with horses, the education has no end.

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When dusk rolls in and night is near on the farm, my family finishes the dinner dishes, dresses warm, leashes up two dogs and makes the short walk to the barn to tuck in the horses for the night. It is a family affair involving, topping off waters, feeding the evening meal, filling hay bags, and removing poop so they can have a good sleep in clean bedding. Craig loves participating in this evening chore and the horses know he is the carrot guy. It is the most intimate family affair I have ever known. Anyone who visits our home can’t wait for “night check”. It is very special. I wouldn’t trade being an owner for a boarder ever, but it does have its challenges and if I am not careful the riding will take second chair. I am not willing to allow that to happen. That means I maintain my grit, my resolve, and my goals. It’s a high calling but I will rise to it. I am now an owner, but I have strong riding goals.tUzW9djHTv6TBCHKXk4vxw

Return to Wellington

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Jack and Benson

There’s great fun in Wellington Florida without having horses here! Who knew? Last year during my husband’s sabbatical he gave me the greatest gift of my life, (besides our five cool kat kids). He encouraged and supported us to take three horses, two dogs, four cats, and two kids to live and train in Wellington for four months. While Jack attended Lendon’s program I was able to participate there by teaching the fitness in the mornings, and then I could zip over to my barn where I trained with Mica Mabragana. Craig managed all the household chores and Kira’s school shuttle while I had horseplay all day every day.

 

As I look back on it now I am overwhelmed with gratitude that he would give me such a gift of a lifetime to experience a season as a family in Wellington. We were in limbo at that time wondering where God would take us next in his career knowing a big move was on the rise. My heart longed for a horse farm while I cycled my bike around the beautiful farms of Wellington. I hoped and prayed he would find a job in South Florida. Thankfully we landed in beautiful Hillsborough NC on a farm that supersedes my wish list. What a wild ride this year has been for us. Looking forward, I hope for some happy trails.

 

For my birthday this week I wanted to return to Wellington to visit friends, sit in the stands at Global to refresh my eye with gorgeous dressage horses, and observe as many lessons as possible. Being here this weekend was a whirlwind of fun. Everywhere we turned I ran into people we adore and shared great memories of a season past, yet memorable and meaningful to us all. Every meal was spent arranging impromptu meals with friends we made last year. We arrived without a single plan, yet the nature of working with horses creates a flexibility and a be-present-now approach to living making it possible to connect without scheduling it weeks in advance. I love that.

 

I don’t have the same desire to be here every season, but I do hope I will be back with horses. And I can definitely imagine myself splitting my year here after spending my first winter in NC. Mostly it is good to know four days observing good dressage can recharge my spirit for my horses at home. I really can’t wait to go back and get in the saddle…that is…after I hug my sweet husband for giving me the horsey life.

 

And furthermore, I am rejuvenated to write about this horsey life again. There’s so much adventure on a horse farm to share maybe you would like to follow along.

Staggering out of 2018

goodbye momAs 2018 comes to a close I lack closure. I am unsteady. I wobble with the events of the year almost as if I am drunk, incapable of walking a straight line into 2019. The year began with a lifetime high learning adventure with my family and horses in Wellington, Florida as we were experiencing dressage in the world capital for four months. During our short stay, Craig’s mom, Gloria’s, cancer took a critical turn to where we face the ultimate reality of her body declaring it’s end on this earth was fast approaching. Within days of turning fifty, I became a grandmother myself in March and my life was transformed by the love for the child of my child. My heart bonded with Gloria in a new way and I longed to sit with her and talk about what it means to be a grandmother. I set her high as the great example of always persevering in her love for our five children through the years. I wondered if I could be as good a grandmother for the next generation as she was for our kids. I doubted myself next to her shiny presence. Memories of her arriving with open arms twice a year eager to get on the floor with them and meet them as they are, where they are and just marvel at their uniqueness is how I will remember her best.

 

She was a role model for me in most of my life as I grew to become a wife, mother, home maker, Christian and finally grandmother. I ached and pained as I faced the rest of my life without her. I drew inwards. I feared her dying because of the unbelievable pain it would cause in me. I wasn’t sure how to look her death in the eye. I lacked courage for this pain.

 

In May Craig accepted a new job with Martin Marietta in North Carolina. We were moving our family within weeks of this decision. In May Gloria moved to hospice. I transported Jack and his horse to his show where our trainer met them so I could fly to New Jersey to say my final goodbye to her. I was the last one in the family to arrive and I got to spend twenty-four hours with her in her final hours. She was radiant as she anticipated going to be with Jesus. I couldn’t get over her peace and joy as she prepared to go into her eternal life. We were all sad but simultaneously dumb founded by her beauty.  Her room had a lovely view of the hills over a horse farm. When I stepped outside I distinctly remember the sensations of nature, the physical existence overwhelming me entirely. I could hear the birds in amplified sound. I could feel the wind as if it were a great hand touching me. I could smell the earth all the way to the bottom of my lungs. I shivered in the fullness of my senses. The sky appeared enormous. I felt God’s presence there. I knew he was enveloping her with love and peace and joy. I felt in my bones how her going home to him was greater than any experience on this earth. I was a witness to the transfer of her to Him in a spiritual way and though I was dripping tears and sobbing from my swollen heart I also felt pure awe. We don’t get out of here alive and if there is a way to go I want to again have her as my role model for leaving this earth.

 

In May I flew to North Carolina to find our family a new home where we could live with our horses at a fair distance from Craig’s new office.

 

In May we flew to New Jersey to celebrate the life of Gloria LaTorre after she went to her eternal home with God.  When I sat alone with my God and felt her loss in my life I had an urge to share an important story I alone knew about her. I did understand it was God poking my shoulder a little bit suggesting I ought to share what I knew about her. I thought yes God I will obey you, and then at no time was I asked if I had something to say so I never stepped forward. It was my first funeral in my life and I was an emotional mess. At her memorial service I wanted to share a piece of her life I alone knew, but I lacked the courage to do it.

 

In June we sold our home and prepared to move. In July Craig returned to work in his new position with Martin Marietta in North Carolina. In August we packed up our lives in Texas and drove across the country for three days to begin a new life on our farm in North Carolina. Within days Kira began attending a new school where she had to make new friends.

 

The day I arrived in North Carolina to meet Craig his father had a stroke and went to the hospital. We moved into our house the next day. I took Kevin to Ireland for a week to help him move into his new semester in Ireland as a student. I have moved twelve times in my marriage and every time Craig’s mom was my cheerleader. She was the one who celebrated with us as we discovered our new hometown. She loved seeing what we did with our new houses and encouraged me so much in the difficulties of moving a family. I was alone this move.

 

In September hurricane Florence visited us preventing our horses from moving to North Carolina as planned. In October, hurricane Michael barreled through our farm. And then the rains came to stay for months, even now they have not left us.

 

Meanwhile our seventeen-year-old Jack struggled to make North Carolina home though all of his friends were in Texas. He experienced despair and loss. I gave a lot of hugs. My mama’s heart was heavy for him.

 

I had never worked so physically hard in my life once the horses arrived on our farm. It was a consuming busy with the move and the transition from suburbanites to horse farm owners.

 

In November Craig’s father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. This arrested our lives and held us captive to experience again the fullness of losing mom not so long ago. My husband felt lost like an orphan facing the second half of his life. The service for his father was the greatest sadness because we never had the wonderful good-byes and last words we savored with mom. His passing over to her caused us all to feel her absence again with greater intensity. They are gone. A generation ended. This thrusts us at a young fifty into the leadership of the family and generations to come. We fee ill-equipped to guide and lead as they always have done for us. It is such a sensation of being lost and unprepared, left behind, and speechless. Downcast. Alone. Wondering.

 

Two of my cats are grooming each other in a chair as I write. Their care for one another and companionship is the simplicity of living I hope for until I pass over to be with God for eternity. I don’t want to be alone here and that’s how I find peace understanding that Dad didn’t want to be here without mom. I get it. I hope I go first. Craig hopes he goes first. Unfortunately for our kids, if we can go together that would be the best.

 

So here I am at the end of December. There wasn’t a gift check from dad in his signature scribble penmanship. We didn’t receive our “rent check” from them as they had put their houses in our names for tax purposes and wrote us a funny rent check at Christmas  in Dad’s scribbly scrawl. Kira and I unpacked the book they gave her a few years ago where they recorded their voices reading to her “The Night Before Christmas”. I was trembling as I changed the batteries in this book because I was so excited to hear their voices again. I thought the greatest treasure of all was here in my hands. In despair, we experienced the failure of the battery having corroded and erasing their voices. It didn’t work. I couldn’t resurrect their voices. I sobbed uncontrollably.  Their presence and voices at Christmas were gone.  Their absence was loud in its silence.  I long for them. I regret not making them fantastically important in our everyday lives. I regret so much and that feels terrible.

 

As I stagger unsteady at the end of 2018 I wonder if I say now what I ought to have shared about Mom at her memorial if I will have peace with their departure. Maybe. Here it is.

 

I was an oddity of a person to mom most of my life with her. I know she scratched her head and wondered what makes this girl tick. But when we decided to adopt Kira she at long last could see my heart and loved me anew as we journeyed to Uganda to bring home the newest member of the LaTorre family. She was Kira’s best friend from the very beginning. Kira knew her grandma so well and she knew she was loved deeply. It brought her such a wonderful security. When Gloria was seventy-five she asked to join me on a trip to Uganda to visit the children’s home we opened. Her heart was full of love for these children and she wanted to know them. We journeyed from America to Africa together and spent a week in my Ugandan apartment. We couldn’t rely on the water to flow. We had to wash laundry by hand in buckets. We bathed from a bucket. We walked in mud. She was a lady who always appeared in public perfectly dressed so she worried about her hair. We didn’t have a hair dryer that would work with our low electricity but I found her using the fan to dry her hair. She was beaming as she said, this works great! I was really proud of her for being so flexible. She slept on the bottom bunk in a room with Jack and Kira under a mosquito net. We ate simple food. We spent every day loving and teaching the children about God together. She never complained about the conditions and remained positive about the unusual challenges of life in a third world country. She made me so proud and everyone who met her was honored to know she was the mother of “Daddy Craig”, the leader of Kirabo Seeds, our nonprofit to help orphaned children.

 

One day we were visiting one of the grandmothers of a child in our home. This toddler in a filthy denim overall dress emerged from the bushes. She followed us. She was dirty from head to toe which is so unusual for children in Uganda. There might be dust everywhere, and they might not have a proper house to live in but everyone takes pride in keeping their children exceptionally clean. The fact that this child was so dirty meant something was terribly wrong. It wasn’t long before this little girl was in the arms of Gloria. We inquired about her and learned her father was considered by the locals as insane and she lived with her elderly grandfather in a camp. She spent most of her time alone wandering as she was that day. We asked the local council person of the village if we could take her home and clean her up and feed her and we were granted permission. This child, Rhonah, clung to Gloria for days as we sorted out what was best for the child. By the end of the week Rhonah was a new member of our children’s home and Gloria had vowed to love her and help her grow in our care. Today she is an exceptional child, smart, hard working and secure.

 

It isn’t often I bring someone to Uganda to do this difficult work of orphan care where by the end of it I feel I would like them to return with me again. I begged Craig’s mom to return with me some day and she said she would love to have the opportunity.

 

That never came to be. Ovarian cancer abruptly altered the path of her life. The memories we made together in Uganda were a once in a life time opportunity. I am so thankful as her daughter-in-law I was able to escort her on this journey to Uganda where she helped us welcome a child to our home. It was a beautiful bonding experience between us. For all the ways, I was a mystery to her I believe on that trip she was able to connect with me about what was truly important in life. We shared a secret bond. I saw her blow dry her hair with a fan and a smile on her face. I saw her rescue an orphaned child and change her life forever. I saw her love people she didn’t know because God was in her loving them through her.

 

I miss you Gloria. There is a great chasm in my life you emptied when you went home to be with God. I have to live with that emptiness. I don’t know how to do that and it causes me to walk forward like I’m drunk, unsteady, altered.

 

It’s hours before 2019 rings into our lives. I need a solid ground to walk on this year. I need it. I am a new grandmother. I walk alone in unchartered grounds with my life. I wish they could see our new home. She said to me before she died, “I want to see you riding your horse on your property with a great smile on your face.” This has come true. I hope somehow she can see it. I hope somehow this new year gives us courage and strength to go forward without Don and Gloria. For now, I still feel the shock of their absence. The grief of missing their voices on the phone, the arrival of their visit. I hope the new year brings balm and salve. I hope God will carry me in his mighty hand with a steadiness as he sets me on the new solid ground of 2019 where I take steady steps forward without the ever present “hoo-rah” cheers from mom and dad. We enter 2019 without our earthly parents and for a seriously real and sobering sense of need we anticipate God the father showing us the way forward. Please God guide our steps and fill our emptiness.

The New ‘Carolina LaTorres’ prepare for Florence. Here’s the scoop.

Our new home in the Carolinas has given us sensory pleasures to cause us to wonder if this is a glimpse of heaven. We have hawks playing on the fence line. There are fish jumping in the lake. There are blue tailed lizards playing hide and seek with us. Neighbor horses graze in sight of the kitchen. There are green frogs stuck to the windows in the morning and playing keep away with the dogs. Spider webs that appear overnight are impressive. And there are the people. The most helpful and kind I have yet to meet. I fall deep into stories with everyone I meet and wonder if I will be invited to their child’s christening the next moment because surely we have become inseparable on our life journey. Kira’s new friend at school in her class was also adopted from Uganda! Ali Perkins arrived September first with her Grand Prix horse, Sante. We have our realtor’s loaner horse to keep him company. It’s been great fun preparing for the arrival of our Texas horses. Everything was just about ready when I contacted the shipping company last Friday to confirm their travel plans for this week. He said a word I know well and one that sends alert signals to every nerve ending in my being:

 

Hurricane.

 

As a teen I lived through Alicia in Houston. When we first moved to Katy TX Ike was an unwelcome passerby. And last year our kids, Donny and Kelli were whisked away from Florida from a major storm when who came behind to Texas but, Harvey to Houston. Some friends in Houston are still recovering from this disaster.

 

Florence was unexpected when we decided to move to the Raleigh NC area. I thought we were running away from hurricanes with great joy. I expected to trade the hurricane drama for some winter weather and believe me I was eager for the exchange. Yet, the never before seen in this area storm is heading our way.

 

Here’s our current life circumstance list with this incredible storm:

  • Jack has been in Willis TX (for two weeks) training with Whit Watkins and Erika West where Benson has been since I dropped him off in early August.  He won’t be flying here today as originally planned. He will stay there until it is safe for the horses to ship here.
  • Rudy and Princess Buttercup are in San Antonio and they were supposed to ship out today so their boarding stall has been rented. They had to leave but the shipping company was overwhelmed with hurricane issues to be able to move them to where Jack and Benson are in Northern Houston. (They were supposed to come to texas today)
  • My sweet friend Pam Malley offered to take them up to Houston. I cried when she told me she would do this. Alas, at the last minute her trailer tire was slashed. This after Rudy showed her what a difficult loader really is. She gets a gold star.
  • That’s when Robert Harrison suggested he could try to borrow a rig and he would take them up for me. Thanks to Marci and Tim Taylor for loaning their truck and trailer.
  • I have just heard that Rudy, the naughty loader, is on the trailer and they are on their way to be with Benson and Jack.
  • Thanks also to Job and Julie Lopez for allowing Jack the comfort of their home during these unusual times. He eats a lot so I need to replenish their pantry for sure.
  • Thanks to Jack and Sierra for taking good care of our three horses until which time it is safe for them to travel to North Carolina. Hopefully the shipping company will find us space next week.
  • We have been working on our fences for weeks here at the farm to prepare for the big arrival. They will be done tomorrow but the storm may destroy our investment. Nevemind, John at American Fence Masters told me he will be here with us after the storm to repair everything back to perfect before moving on to the next job. And a contractor stopped by to assure me with his cell number that we can call if we have major damage.
  • And I have to mention at least five people came to our home here today with helping hands to get us ready to house horses in our barn during an unprecedented storm.
  • I’m thankful for Ali Perkins and her no nonsense work ethic. A Maine girl in her first hurricane is quite heroic. Her roommates split and ran but here she is talking about spending the night in the barn with the horses. She has helped with every detail of preparations for the worst case scenarios. She is exceptional in every way and I thank God that she wanted to work with us.

 

We have our chain saw. (still in a box) We have extra gasoline.  We have hay and we have water. We have a generator. We have food. We have our sense of humor. We have a kayak on our front porch to help transport us to our jetskis in a paddock. We have life vests. We have a high elevation for the house and the barn. We have our faith in God firmly rooted to give us the peace that comes when chaos surrounds.

 

We will use facebook to update our situation. We don’t plan to leave the house. The last boxes to be unpacked are our books so we will find plenty to keep us busy. We look forward to the other side of Florence when our horses walk off a trailer and smell the fresh Carolina air and roll in their green fields. We believe God grows us through difficult times and we believe he is a Good God whose love endures forever.

 

Thanks everyone for your thoughts, prayers, and encouragements.

 

P.S. Florence, please make a hair pin turn right and blast into the other storms at sea so no landfall occurs this season. America needs a hurricane reprieve.

Lessons Learned from Equestrian Season in Wellington FL

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Happy Benson.

Things I learned my first season in Wellington Florida:

  1. I learn the most from a difficult ride.
  2. Dressage trainers are welcoming and generous towards the up and coming youth.
  3. I can live with less. Much less.
  4. We are never too good to muck a stall.
  5. Love the one I am with.
  6. Only memorize quality riding, and have a kind eye towards a learning rider.
  7. There will always be barn drama. Handle lightly at a great distance.
  8. The horse will hold a mirror to my strengths and weaknesses. I can hide nothing from him. Take those lessons and be a better human.
  9. Be content. There are others with more, resist coveting.
  10. Be positive. Celebrate the progress in the journey towards improved riding and horsemanship.
  11. Be a thinking rider with a sharp brain and a relaxed body.
  12. Choose to be confident and calm at every mounting block.
  13. Take walk breaks in the arena and in life.
  14. Make rider and horse fitness a priority.
  15. Observe the horse carefully to make sure something isn’t hurting. Don’t be quick to blame the riding if performance declines.
  16. Ride to improve the quality of the gaits, the throughness, the suppleness, and the responsiveness. Don’t ride for a score.
  17. Be playful with my equine partner.
  18. Cross train with variety in the training schedule to keep him inspired and happy.
  19. Don’t work harder than my horse, let him carry me and remind him to do so with a whisper.
  20. Express relentless gratitude. To your horse, trainer,  barn mates,  vets, supporters, the  farrier and the grooms.