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We Are Flying Solo

December 21, 2021

Getting On With Getting On

Y'all.  This lil' Mousey...this is a Real Good Horse.  

But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

I can't quite believe it's already been two months since Mouse moved into my life & set about gently re-expanding the boundaries of existence with a much-needed shot of hope.  The first order of business was to just relax & get to know each other while Mouse's body took a break.  

Despite a clean PPE, any horse in hard work, whether that is racing or jumping or prancing, is most likely carrying micro-injuries.  This is why we all need days off & why over-training & over-competing lead to disaster - you have to give tissues time to rest & recover periodically in order to stay healthy.  According to the vet, soft tissues need 6-8 weeks to heal micro-tears, while bone needs more like 8-10 weeks.  Mouse last raced in mid-September, so I wanted to be sure I gave his body space to re-solidify his base before we started to rebuild.

Many napzzzz needed
When I start out with a horse, it's really just a process of little things:  learning that association with me is positive, that I bring good things, good feelings, good noms, & am generally a trustworthy human.  I also cover the bases of Operation Farm Breaking, in which we cover all of the "life skills" that make a horse easy to handle & be around.  In Mouse's case, this went far more quickly than anticipated.

Because Echo had been such a big project in that respect, as you can read about in the link, I strapped on my metaphorical toolbelt & prepared to do it all again with Mouse.  Beginning with the most basic exercise of just hanging out with him in the pasture, scratching itchy spots for no reason, making no demands, not trying to catch him, just being a pal.  

Except Mouse already wanted to be my pal.  He politely arranged his body next to me, requesting scratches in various places, rotating to gently place his butt in my face because that is the best scratching of all (according to Mouse).  He already knew how to wear a blanket & hadn't a care in the world when I threw the noisy things over his back.  He already had excellent manners while leading, already waited politely while being fed, already stood patiently while tied or in a trailer.  He already was fine with Human Carrying Weird Objects & Tripping Over Things.

Well, ok then.  That was easy. 

In November, we started ponying out on the trails, my favourite low-impact way to show a horse the world, get their body moving a little, start conditioning, get them used to nature things, all while making Solo very happy to be out & in charge.  Mouse was...completely mellow & perfect & unfazed by all of it, even crunchy leaves that made us sound like elephants & splashy water crossings.

First water crossing

Well, ok then.  That was easy.  Which is becoming my theme for this horse & about which I am NOT complaining.

In late November, I got all toolbelt-ed up again & decided to teach him to stand at the mounting block while I got on & off.  Except he already knew how to do that & stood like a rock while I got on, messed with stirrups, leaned around, made Weird Human Noises.  Someone started this horse very thoroughly & very well & whoever you are -- THANK YOU!!!!  Oh dear cod, thank you so very, very much.  For anyone who is breeding & starting young horses, this is how you help ensure your horses find & keep good homes, because while I CAN teach all these skills, many people can't or don't want to, & a horse who is polite & easy to handle is a horse who is safe to do things with.  That just makes horse & human lives so much easier.  But I digress...  (But it was still easy!)

The cutest straight-A student
After I got over my initial thrill of finally getting to ride my own project for the first time in two years -- just kidding, I am still not over that -- we got to work on the basics.  Mouse has great balance & is regaining weight quickly, but the musculature to bolt down a racetrack is not the same as that used to trot in a rhythm in a grassy circle.  So we are learning about leg cues, about finding a rhythm at walk & trot, about ground poles, & about steering.  Unlike Echo at the same age, Mouse has a much better feel for his own body & better coordination of his leg-parts, so while I think he will be ready to do some canter work sooner, I am going to wait until he is stronger so it is easier for him.  A cadenced canter is harder than a flat gallop.

I've successfully introduced him to some basic longeing skills & he is very smart, having figured out the voice commands quickly, but he is struggling a bit with the whole "circle on his own" concept.  So recently, I introduced him to long-lining (which of course, he accepted completely uneventfully) so that I can actually control both sides of his body.  While our "circle" still resembles more of a drunken stagger (hey, we've only done it twice), I am able to communicate with him more clearly, so I will stick with the long-lines for a while.  He's just starting to figure out that he can stretch forward & down & it's exciting to see those discoveries, which will be the bridges to reshaping his body.

And perhaps most fun of all, if you missed it on our Insta-feed, I got to ride Mouse out on his first trail ride already!  A friend piloted Solo for me, so I could let the Mouser try out nature under saddle.  And it was the best kind of boring I could have asked for:  he ambled along in the sun on a loose rein, as relaxed as if he'd done it a thousand times.  Most of the time he led & in a couple of spots where he hesitated & glanced back, we let Solo pass by & Mouse happily fell in line.  I think I had that big dumb grin on my face a lot of the time.

Yes, his front feet are kind of in the ditch
So I got to skip a lot of steps, thanks to the delightful discovery that Mouse had a solid foundation already.  Right now, the hardest part, really, is not to try to do too much.  He's still a baby, at four years old.  I generally keep rides at 30 minutes or less for these young ones & I don't do high-impact work with still-growing bodies; he'll do some work maybe four days a week.  He's already learned how to work hard on the track, now it's time to go at HIS pace. 

I've pulled his shoes to let his feet strengthen & spread & he's had his first chiro adjustment to get out the starting gate kinks.  The focus will be just finding some consistent rhythms, learning some big, loopy figures, doing hill work & ground poles & trails to slowly build strength, building cues to control different body parts, & just having fun. 

But damn, it's tempting, sitting on this smart, balanced, quiet, capable, pleasant, willing horse who is always tuned in to me & who makes the most adorably earnest efforts to do anything I ask.  It would be so easy to throw him at some jumps, to push him into a frame, to jump ahead to the "fun stuff."  But I think I just may have found a little gem & with patience, I think he is going to be a really, really amazing partner.  To get there, however, & to keep him happy & sound in the long term, it requires the patience & time to be slow & methodical at the beginning.  Here is where we make the investments so that hopefully, if we can just catch some luck along the way, we get to enjoy the big payoffs in days to come.   

Just close your eyes & take a deep, patient breath

18 comments:

  1. This is so exciting. How wonderful that he's such a mellow, steady, well started guy!!

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  2. I love this -- what a good egg!

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  3. He sounds like a fabulous horse!

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  4. What a great horse and a great partnership you are building with him. Kudos to you both!

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    1. So much credit goes to him for being so willing to play along.

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  5. Unfortunately I missed your post when Mouse arrived, so I’m still happy that you have a new horse at all… but learning that he is THIS COOL has made my day! I am thrilled for you, truly. NOBODY deserves a fun partner who’s been easy to deal with more than you do. ❤️

    I also have to comment on the fact that Mouse is four, last raced in September, and that you are taking things slowly. I know other TB restarters are more “aggressive” with their approach and have 3-year-olds hopping around courses a couple months post-letdown. There are arguments to be made both ways (including scientifically w/ bone remodeling data and all that) but I personally would be following your path.

    Seems like The Solo is happy to have a new buddy in the pasture and perhaps is back in charge, as things should be in Solo World?

    Belated and hearty congratulations on the new addition, and may the Horse Gods Be Ever In Your Favor!

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    1. Awww, thank you so much for this! And I absolutely believe that impacts for young horses (carefully applied & understood) are definitely necessary for building bone density in 2 and 3 year olds. However, I much prefer to let people who are braver & with better vet/financial/facility resources do that at the track before I get them! Because while no one should get pounded, it also doesn't do them any favours to treat them with kid gloves & let them stand around picking their nose for 4 years. All things in moderation & in their time!

      Solo has always been the Boss, but he is thrilled to have a much less obnoxious friend.

      From your lips to the horse gods' ears!

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  6. oh my gosh what a great baby horse!! So so happy for you!

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  7. Those people that are wonderful at starting young horses and teaching good life skills are worth their weight in gold.

    Sounds like a good one!

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    1. I agree! I have learned that I definitely DO NOT have the patience to do that all the time, it takes a special breed to do really well with the behbehs!

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  8. This is so exciting, I'm so happy you found a new partner. And you definitely have the tools to make him up exactly how you want him to be.

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    1. Aw, thank you, that is so kind! I hope it's true, you can survey Mouse to see what he thinks in about a year or so, LOL.

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