Barn Stories Ep. 45: Small Victories

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Laurie: Welcome to the Barn Stories podcast. I’m Laurie Prinz, editor of EQUUS magazine.

Christine: And I’m managing editor Christine Barakat.

Laurie: This podcast features our favorite essays and articles published in EQUUS over the past 40 years. Although EQUUS is known for articles on horse care and veterinary research, our editorial mission has always been guided by the bond that exists between horses and people. And each issue has featured a real-life story that celebrates how horses enrich our lives and touch our hearts.

Christine: We’ve searched our archives, chosen the stories that resonated with our readers and given them new life in this audio format. Longtime subscribers may recognize some of their favorite pieces. And if you’re new to the EQUUS community, these stories will confirm that no matter what sort of saddle you sit in, a deep emotional connection to horses is something we all share.

Laurie: I really enjoy the slice-of-life essays we’ve published in EQUUS over the years. They’ve given us glimpses of life with horses nearly everywhere—from wilderness areas to large cities to distant locales, like the village in north Wales where this essay takes place. No matter how different the setting may be from our own, the horse experience is unifying.

Christine: That’s right; the training troubles the rider in this essay is facing will be familiar to anyone, anywhere. And that’s because horses don’t really care how idyllic or exotic a setting might be when the decide they are going to be stubborn. But if I were given the choice to work with a stubborn horse here at home or work with a stubborn horse in a small town in rural north Wales, I think I’m picking Wales.

Laurie: Me, too! So let’s listen to “Small Victories,” written by Jo Roberts and read by Taylor Autumn.

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Taylor Autumn, reader: I often try to combine my riding with other chores, such as exercis­ing the dog or running an errand. So when I realized this morning that I needed some sausages from the butcher, I decided to fit my saddlebags and ride the couple of miles to the vil­lage shops. It does my Quarter Horse/Appaloosa mare, Casey, good to see vil­lage life. We live “out in the sticks” here in rural north Wales, and she never sees a bus, an umbrella or a road marking unless we head down to the village.

There’s nowhere to tie her up outside the butcher’s so I have to dismount and pop my head in through the door to ask for what I want. The butcher and the other customers never fail to be amused by the spectacle of someone doing a spot of shopping on horseback. Animals are great icebreakers. It’s funny how people we don’t know will talk to us if we have an animal. As I’m waiting for the butcher to bag my sausages and bring them out, a man walks right up to Casey and asks, “So what’s your name then?” She greets him like a sport.

At the post office I leave Casey tied up outside. Her new endurance bridle, with clip-on rope reins, is proving very handy for shopping. I hear the bus roar by as I’m at the counter buying stamps, and I glance around quickly to check on Casey, but she’s all right. Just relaxed and waiting patiently for me.

Heading toward home I’m feeling quite chirpy; I’ve had a nice ride, chat­ted with some familiar and unfamiliar faces, and done errands that would have oth­erwise involved using the car. So I start to whistle “Rose of Alabamy,” which goes nicely with Casey’s cool little jog. Then a man steps out of his front gate, tak­ing his dog for a walk, and gives Casey a little start. “Oh, hullo,” I say. “I didn’t see you there.”

He laughs. “Whistling like that, you remind me of John Wayne!”

As a 43-year-old woman, I should probably take being compared to “Rooster” Cogburn as something akin to an insult, but I don’t. I’m smiling as we trot steadily through the streets toward the big hill home, with Casey keeping time to my whistles with her smooth, rhythmic jog.

Today’s ride might not seem like anything special—I’ve traveled this route hundreds of times before. But to­day I really came to appreciate just how far this mare of mine has come over the past two years. 

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Taylor Autumn, reader: Casey has been a bit of a madam in the past, and before she came to me she had been sold regularly, sometimes after as little as six months. She was opinion­ated, bossy and mareish as well as distrustful and cau­tious. And when I first owned her, she would stop dead, refusing to enter the village and trying to return  home. Failing that, she would reverse at great speed.

After checking the tack and her back, I decided the only way was to out-stubborn her, and for many weeks we went every other day, and she would dance around, refuse to move, shy at all manner of things, and generally make the ride as unpleasant as possible.

A mixture of carrots, some nifty reverse turns and dogged determina­tion not to have a horse that refuses to go certain places has meant that fi­nally we can now go to the village with very little ado. This might seem like a small achievement, but to me it is a huge step.

There’s no magic wand, is there? Just persistence.

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Christine: Thanks for listening to Barn Stories. We hope you enjoyed this episode. If you have a favorite article or essay from the EQUUS archives that you’d like us to feature in a future podcast, let us know. You can reach us at [email protected]

The Barn Stories podcast is a production of the Equine Podcast Network, an entity of The Equine Network LLC. Did you enjoy this episode? Head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate and leave us a review.

Looking for more great horse-centric podcasts? Check out the other offerings from the Equine Podcast Network. And thanks for listening!