Sunday, June 14, 2015

Long Time, No . . . Anything

Quite a few of you know after the show in April Royal has been on hiatus while I treat that pesky sarcoid. This time with Xterra, a highly recommended topical that several friends have used to good effect.

Let me tell you it’s been a long two months. I’ve had some health issues to accompany his and I don’t think I need to tell anyone it’s rained a little.

We’d had a pretty full calendar of Spring events to attend which I willingly put on hold to get my horse up to his full health. Many of those events I have seen canceled due to inclement weather and wet riding conditions. By the time it dries out, we might be ready after all!

In the meantime I have spent the longest time not being on a horse that didn’t concern itself with any broken bones or serious healing since I started riding again in the early 90’s. It’s been odd.

I have thought hard about picking up a second horse, a project to keep me interested and engaged while Royal heals. There’s been a few that blipped my radar but I moved an inth too slowly on each and there’s probably reasons they all went to different futures than one with me.

I thought about taking on a training horse like I had planned to over the winter. I have to take into account my very demanding day job, my desire to spend a balanced amount of time with my husband, grandchild and other family. Where does the time come from? There are my own health issues that sometimes greatly interfere with what I think I can do. If there’s going to be a project and a commitment to an owner it has to be one I feel confident I can fulfill. Adding more stress to the mix is not what the doctor has ordered.

Here we are two months into the deal. The treatment is five days on, five days off and repeat. Then heal. What I had no idea was how very long the healing would take. I thought my horse would be out maybe six weeks? Didn’t seem worth getting too spun about finding something else to ride in the meantime. It’s now to a stage I feel comfortable saddling for very light riding but I am checking with my vet to ensure even this is appropriate. I don’t know much about sarcoids and if riding him now before it is fully and completely healed irritates the thing into coming back I’d be awfully upset with my lack of patience.

Enter Shasta. Lovely Halflinger mare that has been broke to drive and has a bit riding in her background. A friend of mine acquired her and asked if I’d be interested in doing some riding to get the mare prepped for trail riding. I gave it serious thought and decided it was exactly what I want to do.

I got her out the other night to see what we have. Nicely built, easy on the eye with a kind, sweet if somewhat worried face.

Watching her move around as I got her ready to saddle I thought about how many horses get branded with the label of “having a big motor.” Quite often and in this mare’s case for sure, the big motor comes from anxiety and expresses itself in hurried feet.

Getting the feet to slow, the body to relax and the mind to let down, that’s the first goal of training for me. Nothing good can happen until that is accomplished. Can I just climb on a horse, especially one as essentially gentle and willing as this one and just get it done from the saddle? I imagine I can but I don’t know why I would.

Taking the time to get it right. That’s been drilled into my head and the equine failures in my past are mute testimony to what can happen when you don’t. I take very deeply my position as advocate for the horse.

What about the owner, you might ask? That’s your client that’s writing the check, what about them? By being the best advocate I can for their horse I can honestly assess where the horse is, what they need and what it’s going to take for us to arrive at goals they want the horse to reach by the end of the designated training time.

If I don’t think the goals are reasonable or the tack they want to use is appropriate I am going to say so. They can do what they like with the information, it’s their horse. Hopefully I will be able to show over the course of time in a clear way what is going to work best for the horse, and therefore, also for the owner as well.

I got the mare ready to saddle and then I saddled her. If the getting ready is done right, the next step should be easy. If it’s not I need to check out what hole I left, what brace I missed that will undoubtedly show up again later.

I took notice of a couple of tight spots, helped  Shasta work through them until her feet slowed, her breathing steadied. The worry wrinkles disappeared from around her eyes and her topline got long and level.

Yesterday we started again. I began with groundwork, her unsaddled. I wanted to get her ready to saddle again so it becomes the non issue for her that it needs to be. Working circles off the halter rope, she pulls on me and is heavy in my hands.

She doesn’t know what she is supposed to do. She gets worried and wants to trot around me in a fast tight circle. I said how about you bend and slow down?

She says, I don’t know what that means. I said, how about this:

I set it up, moving toward her hindquarters that it became easier for her to bend than it was to keep going in the fast circle. As she bent, her feet slowed, she wasn’t pulling for the briefest moment on the lead rope.  I released her to find her way to travel again. No need to force a whole stop, I want her to learn how to go. Stopping is easy once the forward is right.

We spent some time with that. Me setting up ways for her to find release, softness so she learns to seek that, to work with me. I used my flag, let her figure out it wasn’t going to hurt her in any way and still asked for response with respect. A horse can sort out when you are petting them with a flag, hand, whatever and then when you change your energy it means time to go. Not spook away in fear although that might happen at first while they are learning but just to move in a good working way that can get something done.

I let her see that flag on both sides, and then I moved it from one side to other letting her see it out of each eye from ahead, in front and behind her. I shake my head these days when people talk about de-spooking. What they usually mean is trying to set up a bunch of scenarios and getting their horse “over it.” They don’t understand the nature of a horse will never “get over” being a prey animal. These people will be forever surprised when their horse spooks at a shadow in familiar place or suddenly doesn’t like an object they’ve been past a  million times before. It’s just not about that.

I am helping this mare gain confidence in dealing with life as she finds it. That’s going to mean things showing up unexpectedly. People will not always be graceful on or around her so it does her no benefit to tiptoe around her. She needs to be exposed to things without blowing her mind.

Saddling was exactly the non issue I wanted it to be. A couple flinches when I placed the saddle pad warranted it being set a couple of times until it didn’t trouble her at all. I never tie a green horse while saddling and she didn’t take a step or pull the slack out of the rope hung lightly over my arm.

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I snug up the back cinch so she knows it’s there, pull her halter and set her to moving around the arena. I want walk, trot and canter so there are no surprises for her in how the tack feels should those things happen by accident.

I’ve had more than one client tell me “I don’t ever plan to lope my horse so you don’t need to teach them that.” These days I kindly explain that their horse will lope under saddle on purpose so there are not wrecks come the day they find themselves loping by accident. There is not much more dangerous in my opinion than a tight bodied horse that is not comfortable moving out. Like I said, the stopping is easy once you get the go part right.

She bucked halfheartedly at the unfamiliar feel of the back cinch and then loped and trotted up and down the arena. She checked out the pretty mare in the mirrors and decided they could be friends.

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It took me a bit to convince her we were friends too when I wanted to catch her but letting her figure it out for herself is always a good lesson.

My friends, Jess and Kenzie, stopped by to watch. I showed them some of the tight spots that I wanted to work out before I stepped on the mare. This involved me pitching the looped end of my lead up over her saddle. If they can’t tolerate the noise, feel and sight of that I don’t like to get on just yet. I want riding to be a non issue too, so it’s important to take the time it takes to get her ready to ride. Once that’s done, riding is easy.

End of that time, she and I are both puffing and running sweat. I pet her a lot, rattle the saddle around, love  how her eye is quiet and accepting. We are good to go for today’s work.

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Ride tomorrow? I hope so. At least stand in the stirrups, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

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