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November 21, 2020

The Meanwhile Rides: Part II - Finding My Seat

Next came Hunter -- in his late teens (I think?), this rangy 17 h TB sets a new bar for quirky.  I don't have a picture of him right now, but just picture a tall dark bay with solid bone, no white, & a truly noble face.  He ended up giving me something very valuable.  First, some background...
  
Hunter is another of TN's personal horses.  Most of her horses, Rocky being the exception, come to her because everyone else has given up on them.  They have been labeled "unrideable" or are rife with physical issues.  TN truly has a gift for these horses, no small part of which is her seemingly endless patience (seriously, I am in awe of this woman's capacity for calm).

I only know bits & pieces of Hunter's story:  he did event, has done some dressage.  He's a sensitive horse, particularly emotionally.  He has definitely had some rough patches in his life.  As a result, he had become volatile, which is understandable as I got to know how particular he is.  So he carries baggage, which I certainly don't begrudge due to my own familiarity with the concept.  You can't put the reins over his head from the front, you probably can't catch him if he doesn't know you, you can't carry a whip around him, & if another horse canters up behind him in the ring, he might tuck his butt & scoot.  And as we recently learned, a brand-new, stiff saddle pad is akin to torture & he will be unable to trot & will carry his back somewhere around his navel.

Hunter is Special.

Despite this, he has a deeply kind & patient nature.  He likes to be ridden a very specific way, but as long as you don't get aggressive, he will wait for you to figure your shit out.  Even if you are a slow monkey like me.  Thanks to TN's years of work with him, generally the worst he'll do is give a kick out if he thinks you have used too much spur or asked something unfairly, which I have no problem with.  When you do finally sort it out though, he'll give you a nice, respectful contact & a delightful canter.
Some days I feel like this...
As I mentioned, I was looking forward to the opportunity to work on my seat.  It's workmanlike, I think, but I know there's a lot of room for improvement.  It's something that is difficult for me, in large part because I have facet joint arthritis from about L13-S1, so things stay a little stiff, lopsided, & creaky in my lower back/pelvis region.  I never could convince the PT to take up residence in my spare room, sigh.
 
To get to the point of a story which is in danger of rambling out of control, Hunter showed me how to really sit the canter.  Of course, I have long been able to sit ON a canter, but I never felt like I really mastered that supple, following seat which just flows with the saddle inseparably.  It really frustrated me for years because I just couldn't put my finger on why I was failing at this.  I knew it was one of those things that you have to feel to understand, but I didn't know how to stumble into that feel.
 
Enter the gift that Hunter held.  TN was talking me through our initial ride as I learned what he liked & what he didn't.  One of TN's other strengths is a fine-scale eye for body alignment & feel.  She had me put Hunter on some 10-15 m canter circles, where he found his cadence & gave me a soft, receptive back to sit on so I could focus on following his motion with my inside hip.  And "suddenly," there it was -- my hips were part of his back, with no intermittent gap between ass & saddle, with the two of us completely, finally, moving as one.
 
I put "suddenly" in quotes, because as I'm sure many of you know, that was actually really hard work.  I've had to learn what I call "Hunter Time," which means "Super Slow & Patient" because Hunter does nothing in a hurry & gives nothing away for free.  Of course, me being me, I yelled out, "OMG! THIS is what sitting the canter is supposed to feel like!!  This is what I've been looking for for YEARS!!!"  I figure TN can at least have some free entertainment while she's on crutches.    
On that day, it felt like this
I've kept working on this in subsequent Hunter rides whenever he is cooperative (he doesn't always agree that anything which might outpace a snail is necessary nor should he indulge your tiresome human whim to continue at the canter).  And I've found that I'm able to carry that feeling, that seat, to other horses now.  It's not perfect, but a HUUUUGE leap forward for me & I'm really excited about it.  
 
At present, I can't break it down into words & I don't have any magic analogies for you, I'm really sorry about that.  I will keep thinking on it & if I come up with something, it's yours!  But I can say this:  when you have the opportunity, ride different horses.  You never know what gifts they may give you.

To be continued...

November 17, 2020

The Meanwhile Rides: Part I

I think we can all agree that there is never a good time for your horse to hurt himself.  However, throughout the course of Echo's travail, there have definitely been some aspects of timing serendipity.

Normally, spring/summer/fall means lots of work travel for me, chasing wildlife across 1/3 of the state.  Which would have exponentially ratcheted up the stress of having to care for him off-property (yes, next-door, but still another place I needed to be).  But the pandemic meant drastically less field work due to logistical difficulties & virtually no overnight travel.

It also turned out that Echo wasn't the only one who needed me around.  In one of those in-a-flash mishaps that horses excel at, Trainer Neighbour (TN) broke her leg.  Luckily, it didn't require a cast, just six weeks of crutches, but that really puts a kink in your ability to feed a boarding facility -- & ride your training & personal horses.  I finally got a chance to feel like a Really Useful Neighbour: not only can I give a horse a schooling ride without constant supervision, I can schlep feed buckets around with the best of them & thanks to Echo, I was there every night anyway.

I actually started picking up the occasional ride before TN got hurt.  She had a full schedule & needed some help keeping her lesson horse in shape & I needed to not lose all my riding muscles to sadness & atrophy.  The bonus for me was that said lesson horse was Rocky:  the kind of horse who makes it impossible not to smile.

Only Rocky pic I have - during which he took a nap
Rocky is a 26 yr.  old Quarter Horse & reminds me in some ways of Solo

  • He has a long back & a big spring in his trot.  
  • When you ask him to canter, you can feel him go "yippeee!"
  • He will attempt to convince you that his butt is only there to hold his tail on.
  • Nothing makes him happier than a jump (or something he can pretend is a jump...like a puddle)

And just like Solo, he is a kind chestnut with a big heart who will never stop trying for you.  He has a sweet, pocket-pony personality & he makes the most adorable treat face you ever saw.  Yes, he is a priceless gem.

You might have read "old QH who is the primary lesson horse" & thought, oh, that sounds like a dull ride.  You would be completely wrong.

Rocky makes you smile just by being precious when you are near him, but once you start riding, that smile becomes a grin.  Because he is wonderfully responsive to light aids & can give you as much forward as you may desire.  And since he is 26 & honest, you have the option of letting him do his thing so you can work on yourself.

This allowed me to do things like spending an entire ride focusing on riding turns & bends off my outside aids.  Or making tweaks to my position or balance without having to remind the horse to keep going.  Or experiment with different corrections to see which gave a better result.

Bc riding Baby Monsters sometimes doesn't include perfect equitation, lol
It also allowed me try different exercises to tune up areas where Rocky tends to get sloppy, like falling out of the canter into a racing pile of forehand or snatching at the bit when asking for halt.  Playing with my toolbox & finding new pieces to add.

And of course, this was all re-tuning me, rebuilding lost muscle, & with his trot suspension, kick-starting my core re-development.  Which prepared me for the horse we added next -- a horse who actually cares what you do with your seat & just might buck you off if you don't listen, a prospect which both interested me & dismayed me, because seat finesse is what I have the LEAST of.  Similar to Solo's belief about his butt, I feel that my HQ only exist to hold my legs on.

How it went comes next...     

November 11, 2020

In Which We All Co-Habitate Once More

That's right, Echo is finally back home!  

I decided to go ahead & bring him home this past weekend since we were supposed to get rain this week.  He was doing well in his enlarged pen & I didn't want him to backslide if I had to pen him back up just to keep him out of mud.  His own paddock here drains very well & doesn't get muddy.

So with the help of the always-fabulous Erica, we marched Gabe, Solo's substitute buddy, back home next door & returned with an (aced, just so I didn't get accidentally trampled in exuberance) Echo.

True to his good nature, he has transitioned back seamlessly to annoying us here instead of next door, ha.  It took him about 14 seconds to pounce on Solo's head for some Face Tag (during which Solo looked at me going, oh yeah, now I remember how annoying this kid is...).  After which, he returned to his normal pastime of meandering around his paddock & watching the world exist.

Echo in full meander
I'll wait a week before allowing him & Solo to be together again -- Echo has not been able to play with another horse for 4 months, so we didn't want to throw it all at him at once.  

I did sit on him once last week, just walking around for a few minutes.  It didn't feel great -- his feets are sore from not being on grass & his whole body felt tight.  But he seemed to enjoy getting out & doing something, even if he did get bored in about three minutes.  I at least know all the buttons I installed are still there.  And he behaved completely, which was the most important part.  He really tries so hard to be good.

No muscle, but shiny. I wore my vest just in case, but he was uber-chill

Moving forward, I will probably just stick to light work on the longe.  It's not really necessary for me to sit on him at this point & it will allow me to watch him.  I will just see what he tells me he's up for.  Right now, that is essentially walking.  But hey, it's walking AT HOME & it's walking WITH NO STALL CLEANING anywhere in the vicinity.  Vast improvements...

October 31, 2020

The End Is Near!

 By which I mean...the end of cleaning that bloody stall!

To my relief & no small amount of surprise, Dr. Bob actually got to give us GOOD news on Tuesday:  Echo's fracture line is completely healed!!

 *pause for strange feeling...is that...dare we...hope?*

We are not completely done.  Echo still has some bruising in that area to heal & the lytic area around the toe is still filling in.  But now he is a "bruise horse" instead of a "fracture horse," which is somewhat less terrifying for "owner of horse."

The schedule is to let him out on a little larger paddock area (already done with success!) for the next two weeks.  If nothing untoward happens during that time, he can then come home & be in his paddock here for two more weeks & wean off the Equioxx, after which he can go back to regular turnout.

First grazing at liberty since July
I can also begin sitting on his sorry butt (well, technically, his sorry back) next week & tack walk him.  I'll bring along my friend, Ace, for the first attempt, of course -- I know he will try to be good, but he is holding in four months of PLAY-PLAY-PLAY, even a Very Good Boy can only contain so much.

Dr. Bob had us go ahead & transition out of his "fracture shoe" that farrier had devised, consisting of an extra sturdy draft horse pad, into a medium-soft EquiPak pad (forgot to take a pic of that), to provide a softer cushion for the bruising.  

Cut-down draft horse pad
I'm a long way from not holding my breath anymore, but it's a big step forward, so thanks for all the good vibes because they worked!!

October 26, 2020

The Hits Keep Coming

Poor Echo. 

Baby Monster has been on small pen rest since July. His shoulder was making progress, but there was an element to his limp which persisted in a way that nagged at me. I scheduled radiographs with a secret hope that Dr. Bob would tell me I worry too much & everything looked fine. 

That's not exactly what happened. 

I did, however, get an answer. Echo, at some point (same time as shoulder? Hard to say), fractured his left front coffin bone. No horse owner wants to hear that particular f-word (it prompts even heavier use of the OTHER f-word). I did what I do - research.

Coffin bones are heinously slow to heal (of course), but, as long as the fracture doesn't extend into the joint, the prognosis for full recovery is very good. Echo's fracture does not extend into the joint & that whole joint is very clean.  This is good as long as it doesn't change.

He needed to be restricted, though, & I didn't have the setup to do so for 4-6 months or more. Thanks to my very kind neighbor, he is staying next door instead while I once again borrow Gabe, who kept Solo company when I sold Encore. 

At least he got a chance to learn about pigs...
This means that every day for the past 4 months, I work, then I walk next door & feed/muck out the Pig Boy, who loves nothing more than to walk in circles in his poop & mince it into a shavings jambalaya. I come home & have just enough energy to check out, which is why it's taken me so long to write this. 

Dr. Bob comes tomorrow to do follow up rads & see where we are, if it is healing, if it has spread - given our luck, I give it about 50/50 at this point. Obviously, I am hoping for some good news. I keep giving this horse chances because he really is something else. This 6 y.o. TB has been in this stall/pen for 4 months, only coming out a few times a week for hand grazing. And I can take him out in his regular halter, no chains, no drugs, he is obedient & sensible & as adorable as ever. 

One of many chill graze sessions

I had been originally hoping to try & sell him this year -- he is an exceptional horse to handle & ride, but he shows little to no talent or enthusiasm for jumping.  He does have, however, an amazing potential for serious dressage, which I have neither the money, the inclination, nor the facility to pursue.  But this will all have to wait for him to hopefully finish healing. 

In case you are wondering what kind of crappy horse owner doesn't realize their horse has a fractured foot -- there was never any heat, no swelling, no digital pulse.  He wasn't terribly lame; it could easily have been an abscess or bruise.  So my advice to anyone who has a mild mystery lameness that doesn't sit right with you:  do the radiographs sooner rather than later.  

We could use some good vibes if you have any to spare.