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A little help from my friends


When I adopted Kai at 9 months old, I was looking forward to bringing him along myself. We started easy, spending time together and bonding in turnout and working on our grooming time. He was a natural. Loved being around people and for a baby had exceptional patience for standing still. On his first day I even took clippers out to get some matted patches of baby hair off his belly. After a minute of exposure he relaxed and didn’t even flinch as I went to work getting the stubborn clumps of hair off of him. I was thrilled!

As we moved through the process of more complicated ground work requests to saddling, he continued to be a rock star. Like with any baby, we had days that weren’t as productive as others and some days where we tried something new and he immediately understood. There was nothing extraordinarily difficult about his personality and he seemed as eager to learn as I was to teach him. Around that time, I decided to go back to school in pursuit of my Masters Degree. That’s when everything changed.

I went from having regular time after work to focus on his progress to having school two or three nights a week and then school projects/homework on the weekends. This was in addition to increasing work responsibilities and the time I needed to devote to my other horse. I’m pretty sure you could have classified me as clinically insane, but I was determined (naively so) that I could do it all!

As time slipped through my fingers, I began to realize that there was no way I could successfully prepare Kai to take a rider the right way. Consistency was no longer a word that worked with my schedule and from where I stood, consistency was the number one thing a young horse needed. I decided to send little Kai away to a trainer to put the first 30 days on him. On the one hand it broke my heart a bit, on the other, I was relieved to know that I was doing what was right for him in the long run. At least that’s what I thought…

Long story short, he came back from the trainer after 60 days and was branded as incorrigible and impossible to work with. That didn’t sound like my Kai so I brought him home and did a quick run through of everything he knew before he left. He was a different horse. Skittish to human interactions, jittery on the cross-ties, bucking when lunged with a saddle. These were all things he did with confidence before he went away. Instead of pushing off from where he was before he went away, I hit the reset button and we started over again as if we’d never done anything before that day. The slate was clean and I was ready to get down to work. It was an incredibly long process, much longer than I anticipated. From day one it did not go well. Every new attempt was a struggle and neither of us left a session feeling accomplished or successful. It was not constructive and both of us rapidly reached a point where we didn’t particularly like or trust one another.

Thankfully I work with some amazing people. Over the past two years there have been several co-workers who have stepped up to help Kai and I work through roadblocks. Nikki started things off and helped us work through some of the biggest backing roadblocks. He wasn’t particularly nice to her, but she was a rock and always kept things positive, even giving him a voice, accent included, and a new name…Kairos Ramón Santiago. It suited him and his full name still comes out on occasion when he puts his big boy britches on!

Sara took over from there and was so incredibly patient and consistent. She showed Kai that riding wasn’t horrible and could actually be an enjoyable experience. Whenever he had baby freak out moments, she’d just calmly work him through it, sometimes with a song! Sara was around all of the time because her horse was at the same barn. Yes, she juggled my baby along with her own horse and all the barn chores that go along with life at a co-op facility. I don’t know how she did it but she had such a positive impact on both of us. When I decided to move the boys because life at work, school, and a co-op was starting to wear thin, I moved Kai away from the positive influence of Sara. That was honestly the hardest part of making that call.

That’s when Nina stepped up. Nina’s been working with Kai for about a year. The progress she’s made has been unbelievable. I feel like a week doesn’t go by without a story about how they’re trying something new. Recently, they’ve been conquering the ever so traumatic removing of blankets over the head. But it doesn’t end there. That incorrigible horse who couldn’t be backed does amazing ground work, he leg-yields under saddle with the best of them, and he has better downward transitions than my older guy. The journey isn’t over yet (is it ever?!), but she has turned him around to being quite the little worker. I watch them together and love the connection I see.

There are times when I look at Kai and think about how much further along he should be. I have days where I hate myself for sending him away. But I always look around and realize what an incredible network we have in the equestrian community. It has literally taken a village to raise my little monster and I don’t know where we’d be today without their positive influences and encouraging words. It was hard to admit to myself that we needed help, but at the end of the day it was the right call to make. Thankfully I know some amazing people who were equally as awesome to my baby. Sometimes it’s okay to admit when you need help. As hard as that can be for control freak, type-A, do-it-yourselfers like me…

To Nikki, Sara, and Nina, you all have saved us both many times over and for that I’m incredibly thankful!

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One comment on “A little help from my friends
  1. Sue Callahan says:

    Cathlin: Your story is one that I have seen too often. A friend had a “red-headed Arab Mare” that was a night mare at all times. Feeding her became a ritual of carrying an empty bucket as well as the one containing her feed so when she charged with ears pinned tightly back and her head thrust forward, you could slow her down by throwing the empty bucket at her. This would give you a few seconds to run to her feed dish and dump the food and make it back to the gate and safety. I encouraged the owner to work with the mare so all involved would be safe. After a month, the mare no longer was a wreck at feeding time but not safe to ride. The owner sent her off to a recommended “trainer”. She came back after a 2-month training period worse than before. Feeding time was even more dangerous. We put her dish right next to the fence (not a good place, but safe) so no one would get hurt. Empty buckets didn’t work anymore. Nothing did. What I am getting at is, there are people out there that are self-proclaimed trainers. Most of these people should never touch a horse. They don’t no how to communicate to the horse nor are they patient. Anyone can train their horse if they have the time to commit, have patience, be consistent, and most of all, be gentle. A harsh hand never wins. You never want your horse afraid of you. Having Nikki and Sara there and finally Nina was a God-send for both of you. Enjoy a lifetime with your horse. Mine is 29 and I wouldn’t take a fortune for him.

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