Making up for lost time

Calico Trail – Storm Peak

For two years since before my last post here, longer even, I was too depressed to function. That is not to say I spent no time with Zil, but riding was fairly rare, fraught with anxiety and could not be done without my daughter. I usually had to force myself to leave the house even to pet Zil, and I’d anthropomorphized her to the extent that I was often really uncomfortable asking her to do anything. I was unworthy.

No, I really was.

I don’t want to make myself revisit the point at which I abandoned Zil, my family, my life; but at some point in 2015 I gave up. When I finally got out of the Acute Treatment Unit, it was slow going at first. I had to face some tough realizations. I had to figure out what to do with them. I’m still figuring it out. I will be figuring it out for the rest of my life. I am blessed that I have such a resilient and forgiving family, with such a wonderful dog in it, and such a non-judgmental horse.

Dixie. She’s my daughter’s dog, and was still a puppy when I emerged from the darkness.

I began as a tentative new life, to touch the sunlight and Zil’s warm brown fur. I learned how much she loves her face rubbed and scratched. I learned not to be heartbroken on those days when she walked or ran away from me to stand gazing tragically over the fence. It would take time for her to want to approach me. And gradually I began to realize our empathy and how our moods are mirrored in one another.

On Storm Peak, 12,085, with Calico peak, and the Wilderness in the far background

After a few weeks of husband and daughter putting up with my whining, I began to lose my fear of spooks, bucks, drop-offs and steep mountainsides. I’m glad I didn’t know all the trails then, or I would have stuck to the flat ones and never grown into the monster that I am now. We go out two or three times a weekend. Our average pleasure ride length is around 12 miles. I prefer to climb through the dense forest and up above it to 12,000 feet, where we look out at the world through our wind-whipped manes. We talk constantly to one another without words on such rides. We’ve shared two seasons of competitive trail and distance rides, learning all the way, and are now conditioning for our first 50.

Zil and the San Juan Mountains are now my sanity. My childhood dreams of romantic, reckless horse adventures are being realized in my 50s, and I can hardly wrap my mind around this blessing that was given to me undeserved.

I’m re-starting this blog today, and I hope to continue to share our journey and adventures here. I will explore horsemanship triumphs and foibles, San Juan mountain and other trails in the Four Corners, and Lord knows what else. I will try to represent my struggles with bipolar depression in a positive way.  And most importantly, I will continue share my love of my big-hearted Arabian mare, Zil.

Eagle Peak Trail


Ughs bugs

My dad is coming from Florida to visit tomorrow. The house is not ready, but the barn is. He’s a city boy, so he won’t be able to tell. Still, the priorities are in order, are they not?

No! I can’t get the house clean, it is a wreck, and at the same time I’ve been going through this med change, which isn’t working. I still cry like a, well, like me; I still have no confidence and can’t drive or answer the phone. Or ride.

Poor little Zil. She is quite rotund from pasture grazing, and in the pasture are the bugs. Oh, they are bad this year, so hard on the horses. Especially on the chests, those parallel lines rising in a pyramid up to their necks, all full of bugs and aggravated by flies, just where the horses can’t get to them.

The first thing I did with her today was let her prance all around hubby as he tried to trim her hooves (bad big sister! No self-confidence gives the horse way too much advantage). She almost walked all over me, too. She wouldn’t stand still as I worked on her dreadlock either. She was fast losing respect for me.

The next thing I did though was to scratch her chest with a shedding blade. She didn’t do the lip thing most horses do when this is done–they’re in ecstasy. She rarely expresses this. Reserved, this one. She stood calmly, accepting the original-formula Swat® rubbed across the area. This ointment coats minor wounds while repelling flies. The stuff is pink and makes Zil look like she is going around with a gaping open wound on her chest.

Then I massaged her face with my fingers, both of us enjoying the intimate contact, the rubbing of her ears, the gentle stroking of her muzzle and scratching of her chin. Then I discovered the most detestable work of the bugs! Have you ever checked under a horse’s jaws in the deep cavity between them? Talk about a place where they can’t reach! Zil’s under-jaw is a deep, narrow, upside-down canyon, and it was full of crust and scabs. Terrible scabs. Oh, how she stretched her head out for my fingernails working under there! It took me about five minutes to scrape all the mess away that I could reach.

Then it was out with the Swat® again. She visibly relaxed as I coated the canyon with the ointment. That was probably one of the most special moments of her summer! It was special for me, too. I may have been feeling awful, but it was so divine to make her feel good.

I hope all horse sisters and brothers check this area while grooming your horses.

If there were an open gate…

Zil wants out

If I could find the open gate
I know it would lead to you, Lord.
I know there is an open gate somewhere
but I cannot find one.

All I find are gates that slam
against my nose
at the moment I think I am free,
that there will be something good
to depend on:

I depend…and am lost. I feel
like little Zil
when Sister has the reins and is confused.
Zil doesn’t know what I want
She cannot find the open door and so
she throws her head up
to get the bit off her bars.

She is frustrated
like I am frustrated
and I don’t know where to turn
to get to wherever I am supposed to go.

I don’t understand why You seem silent,
why I must feel so abandoned
as yet another hope is dashed
in the very face of a need I have desperately prayed for.
Have you closed this gate to open another?

I know why I am silent to Zil of late
(though You have provided her for my help)
and I can only trust
that You who are God are not damaged
as I Your creation am damaged,

that there is a design for good
to these slamming doors and gates
just like my hope for an end to my absence from Zil,
which has no apparent meaning
to me or to her. She wants that halter
(which I have not the strength to fasten)

and I want to be led
through an open gate,
not groomed to weather more disaster,
and I know You have the strength,
if You have the will, to save us.

Saddle up against depression!

Sounds like a slogan for a fund-raiser, don’t it? Hmmm….Let’s wait till I’m manic and I’ll organize one. Of course, when the big day arrives, I’ll be too busy crying to participate. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve had a helluva week.

Okay, Big Sis, git yer dorky helmet and let's go already!

Okay, Big Sis, git yer dorky helmet and let’s go already!

There are many nicer pictures of Zil saddled up and ready to go…in this one she looks like a little Ute pony named Pinky, and tied to the wreckage of our old porch at that. However, I chose it for its authenticity…taken on 2/16/13, while I was in the midst of one of my worst, most relentless depressive stretches – punctuated by mixed manic mishaps – in recent memory (still in it, too). If it was warm enough at all, I’d determined earlier, I was going out with my little sister Zil every day, and I was being pretty good about it.

And, oh my gosh, so was Zil. That beautiful soul has either been meeting me at the gate or coming to me when I call her, every day. If you have read earlier posts, I referred in one to how stand-offish her nature has been, because of the way her mother whisked her away to the opposite end of the property when she was born, not allowing any imprinting to happen. So for her to be being there for me, actively, consciously, during this difficult time has been life-affirming beyond all expression.

I’m fairly sure most of us bipolar or depressed or other persons with MI have heard how essential exercise and sunshine and fresh air, with or without sunshine, are in the management of our conditions. Go out and walk. Go out and jog. Go walk your dog. Get your bike.

Ride your horse! Why, oh why, did I choose that one??

– (It must be pointed out here, of course, that exercise seldom serves alone as a management tool, and that even with all systems in place, not even a healing horse can prevent all breakdowns) –

Anyway, the horse thing. It’s not just the struggle to get out of bed, figuring out what to wear, getting shoes on (or deciding how much available energy there is to squeeze on how many layers of socks), and dragging-ass out the door that we all share in common. There’s also catching the horse…



…tying the horse up…

How can I get this annoying halter off?

How can I get this annoying halter off?

…sorting through the mental fog to locate special, specific, grooming brushes and then freezing fingers off…

Okay, what's the quickest way to get those dredlocks back?

Okay, what’s the quickest way to get those dredlocks back?

…and then she goes to sleep…



…waiting for yours truly to lug the saddle, saddle pad, bridle, etc….!



…but what do we know?


Our rides lately have been from a mile to four miles, depending on the condition of the county road, the fierce-ity of the wind (it’s been brutal but that generally doesn’t stop us), and most especially the effectiveness of our communication through the aids and, of course, telepathy. Our most recent ride she had her most epic spook since she was a three-year-old, at large sheets of black plastic blowing wildly off a decrepit trailer…boy, I was glad I had a saddle horn. No telepathy whatsoever.

So…my week. Despite our best efforts, I did have an episode during the week, which made it even harder to keep going.

So the next day, I pushed through my depression and self-loathing, and went out and saddled my faithful Zil again. Mainly because she was waiting. Zil helped me through the day, and got me back some self-esteem, too. Although nothing is certain, I know that riding is an essential help to keeping these occurrences to a minimum. I am thankful for her and for the strength of our family’s love and empathy for one another, without which I could not exist.

And we kept on riding. It’s called keeping the faith.

Blog for Mental Health 2013

I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

I would like to thank Bipolar 2 Dad for pledging me and turning me on to this project!

I don’t even remember when I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1. I believe I’ve had it all my life, but my first diagnosis was clinical depression. I was finally diagnosed bipolar in early my 20s. I’m bad with dates, but I’ll never forget the words spoken, by my boss, on the phone, the night I lost my job as a medical technologist a few years ago:

“You don’t have to come back to work.”

Thank God.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve been on almost every medication in the book. Some combos worked for awhile, then stopped working. I believe I am on such a coctail now. It has only seemed to work. Unfortunately, after decades, even as a Christian, I am still searching for the peace and acceptance that so many fellow bloggers seem to be able to achieve.

A few fellow bloggers that I would like to offer to pledge to the Blog for Mental Health 2013:

Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities And Remaining Sane Blog



The Sprightly Writer

Arabian mishap

Happy to see each other!

Happy to see each other!

The moon always insprires me to ride out of depression. So does Zil.

Right now there is no moon, and Zil is hunched miserably out in the pouring rain with her pasturemates, who all stubbornly refuse the option of shelter. I am sitting in my bedroom fighting thoughts of doom and gloom.

Before the bad weather hit, we had a couple more nice walks on the county road while the snow was melting, and then, at last, a week ago, we RODE!

I had to force myself, because of the depression + migraine I had, but I was NOT going to waste the beautiful day and the opportunity to enjoy my beloved’s healing properties, and, of course, her pleasant company. Will prevailed.

I tacked her up at the front porch because my western saddle was there in the sun room, waiting to be cleaned and oiled, along with her bridle, so her bit was kept hanging in there in the sun rather than out in the freezing tack room. I rode her through the yard and opened the gate off her. Pretty good, I thought, after so many weeks of no practice.

The county road was still slushy and slippery in places, but overall had scoped out doable in yesterday’s walk, so we headed north up the road. Immediately, Zil became Zilla (as in Godzilla), because she wanted to evade every cue and be the one to decide everything, most particularly when to trot. Her whoa, well, it seems she lost it somewhere. I let her go, and then when she wanted to stop, I just “let” her keep on a’goin. We walked and trotted up to the next county road. Turn on the haunches, and then back toward the house again.

I’d wised up and had her more in hand by the next couple of rides. Though we rode in a western saddle, we communicated through the English cues and I at last had her trotting along at an even tempo with a nice headset. All was fine and good until I asked her to transition to a walk. She ignored my cues. So I asked again, a bit more loudly. Nada. During the third try, she put her nose in the air. Our even tempo was long gone.

She decided to evade further. This evasion was to make a sudden dash for offroad, onto the smooth snowfield alongside.

Big mistake. The snow was covering a steep, deep dropoff, which I knew about and she should have, having just watched her paint friend Stetson do the same stupid thing on the previous day, but fortunately, without a rider. Zilla and I were solo this day…

She immediately plunged down into snow that came up to her chest and stumbled, just as her hind foot stepped off the solid ground. My legs were in the snow. By now I had forgotten I ever had a migraine, or bipolar, or depression! Surprising myself, I found that I was secure in the saddle, was going nowhere that Zil didn’t, and was more concerned about her than about falling off as we wallowed chaotically. However, I was glad I was in the western saddle, not the English. I just threw away the reins and gave her her head.

In just a moment Zil found her feet again and plunged out of the snow like a gopher out of its hole! She seemed none the worse for the “fall,” no limping, no lameness. She did listen to me very well for the rest of the ride. I think she got a self-taught attitude adjustment.

That was an excellent adventure, but I wouldn’t want to repeat it, and neither would she, I bet!

When we got home, it was a long, ugly procedure to close the driveway gate off her, but we did it. Then, not frozen enough, I decided to work on her dredlocks. I didn’t groom her otherwise, though she loves it, because I don’t like the idea I’m disturbing the insulation fluff of her coat. Here is a picture of her dredlocks:

DredlocksThis was AFTER I had divided one into thirds and worked it out. I got another one out and finger-combed her mane, hoping the monstrosity wouldn’t have re-formed by the next day.

Now it’s all gray, rain, and overly warm (40’s – 50 in the daytime) but still won’t stop raining, and is cold enough to make Zil shiver in the night–she doesn’t get a barn stall 😦 so they all get extra hay to burn and hopefully stay warmer.

Zil looking awayI like sunny day pictures. On days like today, no pics. All I do is feed them and bring them treats, and tell Zil how much I love her.

Now see what I did there? I forgot all about how depressed and useless I was, thinking about Zil. If you are reading this, I truly hope you have something, large or small, that inspires you, too! 😀

It’s the sun that gets us up


Last week, inspired by someone else, I began a series of real tries to fight my bipolar symptoms by getting up and outside with Zil. I’ve missed her so much, and blamed the cold. All I have been doing is hurting myself and her by blaming the cold. It was me.

When I first went out to her she was standoffish. I recognized the behavior. It’s the snooty thing Arabian horses do when you have left them alone for too long.

You’ve been neglecting to worship me, so why should I come to you now?

It lasts about ten minutes, max. Then it’s rubbing, nuzzling, loving on for the duration.

I could not stick around to wait for it. I had to find her halter. Not “a” halter, her halter. I couldn’t find it! Me, who’s always so concerned about everything equine being put away just so! I tried not to freak out, and grabbed a random one of red rope (she looks good in red).

Once she saw the halter, oh, boy, it was a different story. Halter? You’re going to halter me and do something with me? Oh, here I am, please hurry!

Oh, the joyous loving then! I took her to water (hers was frozen and she refuses to drink from the stream), and then let her browse around some for hay and whatnot. Then I took her out on the county road for a walk.  After so long (since before Christmas) she was good as gold. Loose lead, shoulder or neck beside me, turning with me, moving over without being asked, everything–thank goodness, since I was wearing Bogs and the snowpack was trying to melt…had she flipped out there, we could have had quite a wreck!

She only spooked a little past one of the neighbors’ houses, where our Pomeranian, who I did not know was following us, got into a tiff with their dogs. Zil jumped, I did my usual fruitless yelling at Hardhead (aka Dumb-As-A-Rock) and got us past there. Up at the next mailbox we turned around.

We walked briskly back to our place and right on past. Her ears stayed forward and she was clearly smiling and interested all the way down our fence line, despite the frantic geldings in the pasture. Only once we passed our property line did anything change. Her ears swiveled backward, staying in touch with what was going on at home. We spent a happy hour together.

I led her to the candy store (feed shed) and gave her a couple of treats, took her to water again, and put her away, with much scratching and rubbing. She is allowed to rub on me. Though it’s a sign of dominance normally, and not a loving gesture (as many horse owners would like to believe) Zil has learned to do it only when invited, and her reward is that I rub and scratch all over her head.

Later I busted the ice out of EVERYTHING that contained water, even the trough of the rescue horses who had already made it plain they disdained it…they were all 100% committed to the stream….

In her OWN halter!

In her OWN halter!

That wonderful hour made a lot of difference, out in the bright sun, walking with my forever friend. Human friends can hurt you, but your horse always forgives and never stops loving you. There was the benefit of the sun they always talk about (I don’t know how that works when you are so bundled up that the most sun you get is the stray ray that might occasionally hit part of your face), but mostly it was the time spent with Zil, and the feeling of accomplishment that went along with pushing myself out of my cocoon to enjoy the adventure!