Friday, August 19, 2011

Town and Three Horses

Today was very eventful. I woke up and it was freezing cold as usual. No surprise there. It takes me a while to get up the courage to get out from under the duvet and run to the bathroom to turn on the hot water. Then there’s a little bouncing around a bit and sticking my hand in and out of the water because it has a tendency to heat straight to boiling, and there’s some adjusting that has to be done before I can jump in it. After I shower I generally stand under the water for a few minutes while building up the courage to get out into the freezing cold again. I’ll layer up, brush out my hair, put on my wellies, and venture out into the world. Usually after stepping outside I realize that the inside of my place is at least ten degrees cooler than the outside because the cold air gets trapped during the night, and the top layer is one too many. So I go back inside, shed a layer, don my rain jacket again, and move on to the farmhouse for a breakfast of toast and hot tea. This happens every morning. Sooner or later I’ll learn to stick my head out the window or something before putting on that extra layer.

For the past couple of days I’ve eaten breakfast and then headed out to muck the stables before lunging the horses. However, this morning Aoife decided to go into Skibbereen to get groceries, so I tagged along to finally exchange my American dollars for Euros. Aine and Ciara went with us, and on the way it started raining. I was glad I had dressed warmly and in wellies because the weather got considerably cooler.

The grocery store we went to was called “Lidl”, which is apparently equivalent to a small HEB. I’m told it’s found throughout Europe. It was one big room with several aisles of food and miscellaneous things. The food was along the walls, with vegetables on one wall, meats and cheeses on another, and yogurt on another. In the middle was bread and processed products. The very middle aisle consisted of “deals” on non-food items like baby clothes, motorcycle outfits, tools, and other things. There were very few brands that I recognized, and most had Irish names. There was one brand of popcorn called “McCenny” that was supposedly “American style”. That kind of cracked me up, so I took a picture. I found a package of 12 fruity condoms with flavors of strawberry, blueberry, and coconut. I took a picture of that too. The store people looked at me funny. Aoife laughed at me and explained to one clerk that I’m American. For some reason that made sense to her and she turned back to her job.

A few days ago I stupidly volunteered to make enchiladas for my host family because they had never really had Mexican food before. That was a huge mistake. We found red onions, but they’re half the size of the ones we have in Texas. We had to go to a specialty store to find jalapenos, and even then we only found a jar of them in the ethnic aisle. That kind of boggled my mind. My host family has never had black beans, either. I also have to figure out the best way to make Spanish rice. Aoife was laughing at me in the store because I was looking more and more scared of completely fucking these enchiladas up.

After shopping we went into the middle of town so that I could visit the bank. The traffic is completely backwards here, too. I rode on the left hand side of the car where the driver would normally sit. All the cars are manuals over here. I didn’t think that riding on the left hand side of the road would be so bad, but making sudden left turns onto a perpendicular street startled me. My mind can’t really make sense of the traffic at all just yet. The street signs are both in Irish and English, which is kind of cool. Ciara tried to teach me some Irish, but it’s hard as hell to pronounce and simply impossible to make sense of written. There’s tons of extra unnecessary letters. Ironically “hello” in Irish was probably the most difficult word I tried to pronounce today.

We parked a little ways from the town center and trekked inward. I went toward the bank while Aoife, Ciara, and Aine went into a hardware store to look at straighteners. The bank was serious about their security. You have to press a button to get from the outside into this little chamber, and then there’s a buzzing noise and you can push the door to get in. Then you have to push another button and wait to get through from the chamber into the actual bank. It’s almost like the place is quarantined. Then when I entered the bank I had to stop and look around like a lost idiot because I didn’t know where to exchange my currency. Eventually I went up to a teller and asked her, and she got this look of clarity on her face (I guess she had been watching me and wondering what the hell was going on) before saying “Oh yeah! Here!” and taking my money. I exchanged $229 for 153 Euros. Needless to say I was kind of disappointed by that.

Not only that, but when I got back into the car later I asked Ciara why their money was so flimsy. The euros are shorter than our bills and feel like regular paper. She asked what I meant. By this point it was raining pretty hard, so I asked her if it disintegrated in the rain or when run through the wash.

She was like, “Oh yeah, of course. That’s why we have coins with one euro, two euro, and the like. Don’t you Americans have coin equivalents of your dollars?”

I said, “No, Ciara. Our dollars don’t disintegrate. Our currency is built to survive.”

“Oh. That must be nice. Better not send those through the wash though.”

“Duly noted.”

There are lots of conversations like that around here.

We went back to the house shortly after. On the ride back I showed Ciara and Aine my passport and they exclaimed over it. They saw the lyrics to the star-spangled banner and asked what they were. Crazy.

After unloading the groceries Aoife fixed us a late lunch. It was still raining, cold, and windy at this point so she sent us to clean and oil the tack instead of doing anything with the horses. Ciara and I retreated to the tack room and turned on the radio before wrestling the bridles and saddles. We did three bridles and three saddles, and she told me about her boyfriend and her plans for the future. While rubbing down the saddles with vegetable oil, I told her about Michael and Texas A&M. We bonded. She took a picture of me with a saddle on my lap. I refreshed my knowledge on how to take a bridle fully apart and put it back together again. My hands are now super soft.

While in the tack room the sun had come out and the rain had stopped, so we took Skippy out and I started teaching him manners. I guess I should explain what my job is now. After observing me for a few days, Aoife has decided that I should be put in charge of training three different horses. She thinks my knowledge (and no-nonsense attitude) is sufficient enough to handle them by myself. Thank you Robin and Vanessa for your videos and pre-trip brush-up!

Anyway, I have three horses. Skippy is a young pony whose back comes up to the height of my shoulders. He’s absolutely beautiful and incredibly intelligent, but he’s easily spooked. Aoife and Teddy sold him a few days ago and he’s supposed to go to a children’s home, but he needs a little work before he can be sent off. I’m supposed to get him to the point where he doesn’t spook around children, sudden movements, screaming, hitting, etc. I’m also supposed to teach him manners and get him lunging comfortably on a line. He’s been ridden a little bit, but he needs more time with someone on his back. I worked with him a lot today. I’ll tell you about that in a little.

Rocky is a big brute of a horse. He’s seriously fucking huge. I think Ciara told me he’s 17 hands tall, which means his back is well above my full height. He’s well trained already, but he hasn’t been worked or ridden in about three months and Ciara wants him ready for the hunting season. When I met him for the first time he tried to knock me over, but I smacked him and he quickly conceded to my dominance. I think that’s when Aoife decided I was going to train him. He realized pretty quickly that I wouldn’t take his crap.

Smudge is another beautiful horse. He’s about four years old, but he still looks like an awkward foal. He hasn’t been handled much at all and he hasn’t been ridden. I’m supposed to train him from the ground up and get him riding and responding well to commands. I worked with him a little bit yesterday and he was very responsive and intelligent. He picked up on my commands after only a few mishaps. He’s definitely one of my favorites.

So I worked with Skippy for most of the afternoon, both before and after dinner. First I lunged him on his preferred side for a little while to get him tired and listening to me. For those of you that don’t know, horses generally do much better when learning things on one side of their body rather than the other. So you’ll find that they pick up on new things very easily when it occurs on one side, and then it’s a struggle for them to get to the same point on the other. Almost like a left handed person trying to write right handed. Anyway, I made Skippy trot and then canter for a bit before I called him to a halt and maked him think. I taught him to back up on command after a little while. He also got to where he would face me whenever he stopped moving, which is really good. I praised him liberally and he started trusting me. Then I moved around him and rubbed his back and hindquarters. He stood still for me, so I leaned over his back and patted him, and then jumped up and down and kicked pebbles near his feet. He spooked a little bit, but stayed in one place. I moved back up to his head and swung the crop around. He spooked at that, so I held him and scolded him whenever he started trying to rear or back up, and praised him when he stood still instead. It got to the point where he was standing still even when I was making very sudden movements near his face, smacking him lightly with the crop, throwing the crop past his head, and stomping around behind him. I felt pretty stoked at this point.

Next I asked Ciara to come over and jump around him, swing the crop, and flap her windbreaker. He spooked quite a bit at her movements, but he kept his nose near me and circled around me to get away from her. It was kind of cool to see how he trusted me like that. We did a repeat of her stomping and moving and me praising when he stood still and scolding and holding him when he moved after her sudden movements. He definitely made progress. Eventually I sent Ciara away and let him think about something else. I lunged him for a bit and tried to get him changing directions. It was really hard when he had to change from counterclockwise to clockwise. I had to chase after him a lot. After about half an hour of practicing he started turning more smoothly, but I’ll have to reinforce it tomorrow.

I’m really excited about getting up tomorrow and continuing the work on Skippy. I already have a plan for him and I can’t wait to get started. I hope he’ll be as responsive as he was today. I honestly haven’t felt this satisfied in my work in a long time. It’s really rewarding. Hopefully I’ll feel the same way after a full day of working tomorrow. We’ll see.

1 comment:

  1. Dude, this all sounds awesome. I really want to meet these people when I come visit. Funneh.