Catch-22

Anyone who’s read Catch-22 understands the concept:

Yossarian was sent to war and tried to get out of flying duty on the basis of being crazy.  His officers told him he couldn’t get out of it, because obviously any sane person would want to get out of war.  But anyone who would want to go to war must be crazy, and yet, by realizing it, they no longer were.

Let me introduce you to Jack – an off the track thoroughbred coming 12 years old this spring, and just gelded last winter.  Being a big bad scary stud monster, he was met with lots of defensive and harsh handling from scared or uneducated or dominating humans.

People couldn’t work with him because they thought he was crazy,

but the catch is he was “crazy” because of the people’s inability to work with him.

And so goes the vicious cycle, the catch-22 of Jack’s life.

He’s spent the last winter recovering and putting weight on after being neglected and starved (this horse has lived through some serious yikes), and then spent a few unsuccessful months at a trainer’s, and as a last ditch effort came my way to see if Jack could have another chance at being a civilized citizen.

I picked him up this Monday, just after arriving home from Amarillo, and was pretty excited to see him load much better than he did when I dropped him off.  Luckily I had some help from a handy horse friend, and that made for much easier work than it had gone by myself.  I figured I’d give him a week of herd therapy before I got to work with him, giving him time to settle and discover his place in a herd.  I think being part of a healthy functioning group of horses can provide better therapy than any human ever can, and my horses helped him find how to be respectful, a little calmer, eat better, and be part of a bigger picture.  Every horse needs that for their mental health.

Not five days had gone by when I was out to catch one of my horses up, and here comes “Catch”, ready to be caught.  His eyes had changed from frightened and hard, to curious, a little insecure, but brighter.  His ears swiveled nervously between pricked forward in interest and airplane ears, each kind of flattened to the side, but he wanted to be caught, so I respected his wishes and carefully haltered him up.

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He snorted loudly, but followed me and the lead rope out of the pasture, picking his way through the narrow gate only to encounter tons of scary things in this big, bad new world:  trailers, backhoes, cars, farm equipment, a fat cat lazing in the sun jumps up suddenly and flies into the barn in an orange blur.  Jack looks to me for support, eyes inquisitive, so I petted him between the eyes, grateful for the gift of him looking to me rather than just blowing up and getting out of dodge, as he was known to do.

We walked carefully and slowly through the gauntlet of Scary Things, and into the roundpen where I began asking him to follow my lead rope.  I asked him to just stay in the center with me for a moment, putting his attention toward me, and he did.  Then I asked him to follow a feel on a circle to the left, and he jigged and snorted nervously.  I could feel the “crazy thoroughbred on the lunge line” routine developing quickly, so I asked him to untrack his hindquarters as smoothly as possible and change direction.  I was looking to keep him from checking out mentally, looking to keep him focused and asking me for help, not just going into la la land.

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It didn’t take long for him to flow to the left with a nice bend in his body, and while he was still a little tight, he was starting to consider maybe people and their crazy ideas weren’t so bad.

Then I asked him to go right.

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Clearly, he’d had less experience going to the right, and the idea of it got him a little upset.  Asking him to go right brought up his foundation, which involved diving in and bowling over anyone in his path when he was worried.   I can’t say as I blame him for trying and perfecting this move over the years, but it sure wouldn’t work for me or him in our lives together, so I tried my best to make it clear to him he would feel better if he unlocked his ribcage and lifted his shoulder as he circled, and that I would show him respect as a horse and not a monster, and so I expected it from him as well.

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That got cleaned up pretty quick, and he was pretty relaxed going to the right in not much time at all, though noticeably stiffer on that side.

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I think he made some really nice changes in just a short day. He’s a very sensitive, intelligent and athletic horse, so I’m certain he’ll be a really cool horse for advanced rider.

I’ll keep y’all posted – I’m hoping for Jack’s sake that he comes through and gets to be a confident, happy horse.  I think he’s got a good start at it.

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