Saturday, February 20, 2016

Life Without Horses

During my recovery, it had occurred to me to wonder if I were approaching a stage of life that didn't have horses in it. A worthy question and one I've asked myself the few times I have hit the ground hard enough to either break something or damage myself into months of downtime and healing. I think only a sane person would wonder if continuing to put themselves in position for such things to happen is a good idea.

Then, there is the money. Non-horse people have zero idea how much money we plug into our sport, our hobby. I am currently in the process of closing a deal on an F250 I absolutely would not require in a life that didn't have horses in it. My trailer shopping budget is between 14 and 18k. Money that could go a bunch of different things . . . sans horses.

Except for days like the one in my last blog. And today. A day spent at the barn, doing barn things, smelling barn smells in the company of friends doing the same. Scrubbing buckets, hanging them back in place, petting the residents in their stalls, and watching my own two beasts down in their pen below unsuspectingly waiting their turn.

The glorious ride on Royal. I find myself posting around the arena, a little out of breath, a little off balance but he's keeping his cadence and I'm working on keeping up. I am not afraid. If you have followed my blog you know the fear demons that have beset me. I wondered if they'd raise their unwelcome heads again. That's another thing about a horse-less life. You never have to swallow back your fear and put your foot in the stirrup one more time. I have a feeling, though, the fear really has nothing to do with horses whatsoever but more the emptiness inside a person that lacks confidence in themselves. So, then, probably find that guy again some other place, horses or no.

I'm posting around, enjoying how very solid he feels. How straight a line he cuts, how nicely he rounds or squares into the corners depending on what I'm asking. During the warm up, I want him to come onto the outside rein, yield to my inside leg. To the right is tough. I go to put my right leg on him and it doesn't hurt, thankfully (no horses, less pain? maybe) but it also doesn't do put much strength into the effort either. He doesn't want to round into the small circle. His rib cage bumps my leg. I bump it back. Get over there.

We mess. I am looking for him to relax his underline, his throat, underside of his neck. It happens and his ears are right, his feet are right and his brain is between his curly ears where it belongs. This is what "putting them up on a good note" really means. I think back on how angry I was that Peter had me ride Royal after that steer when I was completely terrified he'd go to bucking again. Riding into that arena took every bit of steel I have in me. It worked out and I am so grateful that I rode. I got back, four months later on a horse I had faith in rather than one I had just shattered bones on. He had faith in me, too. World of difference.

Our 20 meter circles are decent. I know where the marks are now and Greg and I chat about the Shaggy show coming up first weekend of April. I had really hoped to move us into Training Level this year. I had not planned on several months of down time setting us firmly back in our schedule.

I am pleased though that we are not reinventing the wheel, Royal and I. We are both in a good place and we remember what we are doing. We will ride the Intro tests, for sure.

I look ahead. We are coming to the time if we were taking a lesson that Becky would say, okay when you hit M, round the corner, sit a few beats and ask for the canter.

I had almost ruined Royal's canter transition. I'd exaggerate my cues to set him up, do too much, get in his way. He was so annoyed with it all he'd stopped wanting to. Becky said, stop all that movement in the saddle. Sit like a princess, put your leg on him and EXPECT him to canter.

So we round at the bottom of the arena. I sit a few beats, put my leg on him and  . . . ka dum thump, ka dum thump, gorgeous little three beat canter. I'm so excited (he's not bucking or even thinking about bucking, he's on the correct lead, this is gorgeous   . .  this is  . . aw shit.) We lost it and trotted around. I gather him up and my ask the next time is not as natural and he pounds his trot into the ground. No canter from here. Can't happen, won't happen.

Come around again, sit back. One, two, three. Leg on. Here we go . .  . so lovely

Greg had to go and he took his big pony out. Royal's ears snap forward in a hard point. I'm being left? Oh no! This won't do!

That Royal. That's the one that gets in trouble. I circle him, working those ears, one pinned firmly to the barn door, the other flickering back and forth. With me, leaving me, with me, leaving . . . now, finally, both with me and we are back after it.

Other way, we get the canter super easy. I sit back, he floats. This is what it's supposed to be like. This is what it is, the deal. You don't get moments like this in a life without horses.

You don't get soft nickers from the other horse tied to the wall, his eyes not on the horse coming back toward him but fixed on YOU. The soft muzzle playing lip games, the big bald Painted face tucking to your chest when you rub a knot out of his neck. You don't get to see them sigh with relief when you help them relax, find confidence and let down from their worry.

There are so many things you don't get to have in a life that doesn't have horses in it, I'm not sure it would be worth living for me. I' m pretty glad it doesn't have to be that way. We are going to ride Training level too. No reason why not.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

All four Corners

I remember how revolutionary it was for me to hear that all four corners of the horse should reach equally. A supple, balanced horse does this. A tight upset horse cannot. Understanding the theory is a long way from knowing what it looks like though now that I know I can't imagine not knowing.

A horse in balance glides, loose joints move easily. They don't get hurt as often and they are not so likely to injure you, either. There is a flowing, rippling quality to the movement.

Back in the day when I would asses horses for a living either to purchase for myself or a client my absolute top goal was to survive the experience. Shortly thereafter on the priorities was not get in any kind of wreck whatsoever. Usually watching the owner handle and hopefully ride the animal would tell me everything I needed to know. Almost all the errors I saw were human created and the horse would do whatever it could to either get along or protect itself.

I'd watch the long suffering things throw their heads, hollow their necks and backs, pound around in a spine jarring gait under ill fitting saddles, big bits and hard sitting riders. I don't so much judge people for what they don't know though I do get a bit critical over willful ignorance.

My theory almost never wrong is that if the horse would put up with all that, I could probably get on, ride safely for a couple minutes to see what it knows and then strike a deal. I've bought some darned nice horses worth the money through people not having a clue what they have.

I've talked before about a little sorrel mare named Penelope and how she is the benchmark for what sitting on a broke horse feels like, There is something that happens when you get on one and they settle smoothly under you. There's no movement of feet but the weight shifts and you fit together like one beast.

Yesterday, that happened with Royal.

Following our wreck in September, I've hung in there for my return to ride date. Doctor wouldn't even discuss it with me for the longest. I was good, no way I was going to risk healing of something this important. I stayed off and mostly away from the horses all these months. There was enough pain and discomfort I knew the medical advice I was receiving was sound. Finally, I get the nod. Second weekend of February, it's on.

I had it in my head to maybe start out with a different horse. Use one of Greg's at the barn less likely to throw in some cold backed pyrotechnics, one that had maybe been ridden in the past four and a half months.

I get my two yesterday never even entertaining the idea of riding something else. My plan was spend the day and ride them both. Huckleberry is moving stiffly and I am not sure I want to throw the heavy western saddle twice. At this point I am not 100% certain I can throw it once.

I smile while digging the thing out from under pads and the assorted English saddle. My good bridle missing in action all this time after the clinic is hanging from the saddle horn. It's developing into a really good day. Sabrina, I've brought it home and the next time we see it, your gorgeous mecate will be in place.

I grin bigger as it's uncomfortable packing the saddle into the arena but doable. Fully rigged it weighs give or take 50 pounds. My wrist scowls but it doesn't wimp out and quit. I'm good with that.

The boys enjoy the dry soft sandy indoor while I finalize a deal on my trailer. Really good day, now eh. Trailer is sold, truck shopping will kick into highest gear so that money does not find itself other places and me no truck.

I go in, seek them out. They're done rolling, bucking, playing, farting and snorting. Now we stand, the three of us.. Huckleberry reaches over and snuffles me. Royal stands close. We breathe and I am loving this moment so much I don't really care if I do any other thing all day long.

Curious about Huck's movement, I slide my hand down his leg and ask for his foot. He politely hands it to me and I flex the ankle. The frog is retracted and he's sitting up high on his heels. They are way past due for a mani/peddy session. No wonder this horse is sore. I set the foot down and it must have hurt, as Huck flinches and pins his ears.

He glares at me in an owly fashion. I rub his neck but he's not having any and shakes his head at me. Okay, you need to move off, big boy. I don't get bully with him but I do make him leave and create a safer distance between us. I am not sure what's behind all that posturing but it's a silly person that ignores it.

After he figures out ears forward and soft eyes will let him come back, we do that.

Grooming is Zen time. I go over every inch of them, noting scars, nicks. Huck is sore over his topline. I've been thinking chiropractiry in his near future and I will make the appointment tomorrow. You can't train pain and this horse is not right, so he is mostly going to sit and hang out until I find out what's going on with him beside short toes and high heels.

Royal is calm. His affect is of a been there, done that saddle horse. I saddle, checking him closely while I tighten the cinch. I snug it up in stages, not taking a ton of time but watching my horse.

I make sure it won't go under his belly and cause us another problem, I pull halters and move both horses around. I fully expect Royal to blow up and buck the knots out of his back like he has done when first saddled for a long time. I can't even remember when that started or why I didn't think it was remarkable . . .

He doesn't. Trots around, Arab floaty, sassy nose in the air but not tight. Peter had commented during the clinic that Royal might not ever find the need to blow up like that again. I'd filed the thought away to revisit as I wasn't sure but watching my horse move comfortably, in balance told me he could be right. Then he tucks that nose and shows me the beautiful self carriage I love so much.

I put Royal through every test I know. I tried to spook him, suddenly flapping the flag in his rearview mirror. I did groundwork, circling him around, drifting the hind. That's asking the hind to reach further than the front requiring some athletic stretching and can't happen if there are knots.

I told Greg if I were assessing this horse back in the day, I'd already been on him for about three minutes to make sure what I was seeing was real, would have been off before the owner realizes what a nice horse they have. He'd have been in my trailer heading home.

No more putting it off. The horse is ready to ride and so am I.

I climb up on the mounting block and he swoops in to pick me up. Stands steady, square. I mess around, treating him like a colt. I move stirrups, lean over, flap offside stirrup. He waits patiently.

Okay, foot in, don't mess around. Get on, get settled. My stirrup leathers are stiff from sitting and it takes a minute to get my right foot in the stirrup. Royal doesn't care. He's so solid under me. I sit and appreciate him.

Pick up my right rein,ask him to flex that way and look at me out of his right eye. Yep, I see you, Terri. There you are.

To the left, yep, you are over there too. He is content, Neckline relaxed. Well Greg, I say, we aren't getting very far like this and I suppose it's time to ask him to move before he does stand here long enough to get tight.

He steps off like the broke saddle pony he really is. There is nothing in the world like being on your coming home horse, the one that sits so deep in your heart it doesn't matter what you have to go through to make the partnership work.

We work easy circles at the walk. I ask for a soft feel and he's there. We work at holding it. I don't fuss at him, let him find his way. We trot circles, do some serpentines, ride simple dressage patterns, move the hip and front end around. He's not as bendy as he is when we are in shape and neither am I.

We are willing partners though. There are no spooks, no big eyes or gasps at shadows. He doesn't care about noises or anything at all. I was thinking I'd stay on him and ride forever.

Greg needed to leave the barn and in the interest of being smart, ending on a great note, I decided not to keep riding if there were no one in proximity to at least be able to tell the story.

My horse is happy. He is enjoying being with me. What a long road that has been. Worth every mile.

People thought I was crazy to keep riding in the clinic after I got hurt. I am so glad I did. Both of my horses ended on good notes there and so did I. I will always tighten my own cinch and ride my own ride. I will listen to what my horse tells me.

Yesterday, he told me we were balanced on all four corners.