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We Are Flying Solo

September 30, 2011

For Keeps

Encore has to stay now -- he is officially labeled.  Wow, my phone takes terrible pictures.

September 29, 2011

He's Still There

The setting sun makes a bright corona around orange ears as we ride directly into its fierce shine.  The light brushes seedheads and the leaves of volunteer corn stalks with an auburn glow.  A familiar, muscular neck defines my view of the edge of this cutover field.

When I last rode Solo on Friday, he felt flat, tired, depressed.  It made me feel ill and I couldn't summon the energy to let it go.  Determined to prove to him that his life wasn't over, we struck out on the trails on this heart-stoppingly gorgeous evening in early fall.

It only took two steps of trot to breathe the life back into him.  It was like watching a cardiac patient gasp their first lungful of air after resuscitation.  And it felt great.  I let him strike into canter in the next field over and he rolled proudly along the treeline with the easy stride I know and love so well.

Fixed?  No.  He remains just trail sound.  But my buddy, my partner, is still in there.  He is not lost or gone, he is just a bit sad because he thought the fun had ended.  It filled me with joy to show him he was still The Man, he could still explore the world in a swinging trot among the tulip poplars and the bottomland sycamores we both live to experience.  It was a dose of much needed medicine for us both and I, too, feel like I can breathe again.

September 27, 2011

Please, Just One?

I think Solo's feeling a little bummed out.  You would think he'd appreciate hitting the horse jackpot; his life consists of grazing in his favourite pasture with his buddy, Danny, like they are Siamese twins.  A couple times a week, he is subjected to short, light ride to stretch and move his muscles.  Otherwise, he is stuffed with treats and rubbed with his favourite brushes.

He reckons it sucks.

Well, I don't think he minds the grazing part terribly, but that's not a new thing.  What he minds is the part where he lost his job. 

We trot up the hill to the arena, passing through our jump field.  By the first jump, Solo leans hard towards it, begging pleasepleaseplease can I jump it??!  My heart hurts as I have to say, sorry, buddy, not today.  With a sigh, he continues on past the second jump.  He leans again.  How about this one??!  Again, I have to deny his request.  Each jump merits the same pleading from him and the same sad rebuttal from me.  It kills me. 

Stretchy trot work in the arena garners only resigned acceptance from Solo, so I give him some canter figure eights with flying changes in the corners and a hand gallop down the long side.  He is ok as long as we keep a soft, long contact.  That seems to perk him up a little bit, so I feel slightly better.

So now I must formulate plans including "things that make Solo happy" and I must make sure those things do not include any "things that make Solo more sore."  It's a fine line.  Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and we can do a trail ride later in the week, that always perks up some red ears.

I am waiting and watching, as instructed, but I am not seeing huge improvements.  The vet that did Encore's PPE suggested a bone scan to isolate problem areas, since we cannot see into his back sufficiently with other imaging technologies.  It could very well be telling, but last I checked, bone scan prices hovered around $1200.  He said he could "work out a deal" with me, but unless that included a discount of, say, $1199....  I am researching the details anyway and keeping it in mind.  If it could pinpoint something we have not yet identified, then perhaps that information could lead us to a fix.  That would be worth twice that price.

September 25, 2011

Learning Curve

Encore finally got to meet Priscilla and her dressage magic this weekend.  For the first time, I was actually able to capture his mind on the task at hand.  Previously, he was always quite busy watching the pastures and checking everything out.  The simple requests I made did not even require his focus for easy fulfillment.  So P put us on a circle and set to introducing the leg yield.

"It doesn't matter that he is green; ride him like a trained horse."  I heard those words often.  You want to give the horse a space to fill with your body and aids.  You create this space out of expectation:  I will apply the aids for leg yield correctly, giving you a space and a direction to move in  and then give you the opportunity to come into that space.

We spiraled down out of the 20-meter into a circle just small enough that Encore had to work hard at it.  Then I applied the inside leg, directed my core and energy to the outside of the circle, opened the outside rein, and kept the inside rein soft and mobile to try and hold a little bit of bend.

At first, he did exactly what you would expect:  Oh!  Leg means forward, ok!  I calmly said nope, wrong answer with an engaged core and gentle closing of the rein.  Then I reapplied the leg yield aids, asking try again, opening up that expectant space again.

I could feel him thinking and then he went, Ummm, this way? as he stepped back out to the big circle.  Good boy! 

Brain is fullz!  No more dressaging!!
After several successful repetitions in each direction, we did a shallow serpentine exercise on a 40-meter line, seeing how he would react to changes of bend.  No problems there, he balanced nicely.  We then attempted a leg yield on the straight line, but he said Unnnggghh, brainfulldinnertime.  Which was fine, we had accomplished quite a bit and just wanted to finish the day with a couple hops over a crossrail to practice picking up all four of our legs at once -- as Encore loveslovesloves to jump, it would make a nice closing and reward for a good lesson.

With a placing pole on each side, I again presented him with a place to go and sat quietly as he attempted the exercise.  Trotting between the standards, he was intent on the horses coming in from the pasture nearby and as a result, hopped over the tiny X with his front legs, neglecting to bother lifting his back legs and whacked a pole to the ground. 

P raised the height to about 2' in the center to present a little more obstacle and we headed back.  Steering is not yet Encore's forte so he ended up a bit off center at a higher section.  Determined not to whack himself in the legs again, he bounced up off the ground as I wrapped my legs around him, giving that cross rail a healthy foot or so of room!  P announced that he lifted his shoulder beautifully, curling his front legs up like a showjumper and tucking his little hind legs neatly up behind.  She asserted that once we got him going steadily at the jumping, he sure would not be the one pulling rails in stadium!

I led him back to the barn with a big stupid grin on my face.  Well, ok, I do that every time, but I really felt like we took some good steps and I'm looking forward to the next couple weeks of homework.  I'll continue to build the leg yield, while focusing very hard on my own body.  Riding Solo for five years, I've developed my own riding quirks, like locking my left arm and riding off the back of my calf for a strong leg aid.  Those have to go and I must be very careful not to bring those forward with me in Encore's training so as to keep him as light and straight as possible!

September 22, 2011

I'm Afraid Of Good Things

There, I said it.  Because I have to admit, the magic of Encore scares the hell out of me!

Are you on crack, crazy woman? you query incredulously. He's a great horse, full of promise and potential, enjoy it!

Psssh, I can't afford drugs, I have horses! That detail aside, his awesomeness is exactly why he terrifies me.

I longed him today, his second longeing session (we'll not count the bolting gallop-fest that was his pre-purchase exam longe initiation). He politely walked, trotted, and cantered in both directions on a perfect circle. In vienna reins. All on voice command. And automatically switched directions when he halted because I showed him how one time.

See, in my world, this horse is too good to be true. He has a perfect mind, he is perfectly built, he is perfectly trainable, he is perfectly rideable, he has a perfectly professional attitude. He's like a damn unicorn -- absolutely amazing, but not something you'll ever find in your own backyard.

Therefore, I tiptoe through the barn almost afraid to watch him move, sure that he will go ridiculously lame or drop into a deadly colic. I am certain that there is no way the universe would EVER allow me to have a horse like this without some form of serious repercussions that I cannot possibly guess at.

I do remind myself that he still needs a lot of work. His feet are in need of some dedicated rehab; he's quite underweight; neither muscle nor balance are in very good supply and he breaks into a sweat after five minutes of work. So we do have a long road ahead of us and there WILL be speedbumps.

I think I just need him to have a good, old-fashioned idiot day, to just freak out about something ridiculous or do something incredibly stupid and assure me that he is not a hallucination from Fantasy World, but instead a real, flawed, and fully attainable creature who is not lying in wait to crush my soul when I least expect it.

In the meantime, however, I am having a freaking BLAST with this horse -- my barn friend stopped and looked at me the other day. "I don't think I have ever seen you smile so much since I have known you," she offered. "You've had a grin on your face all week, I had no idea you could be that happy!"

So, Jessica, Allie, Suzanne, mum, trainer in Delaware that I don't know, universe -- I am scared out of my wits, but I love it -- THANK YOU.