I started drafting this over a week ago, so it’s a bit out of date, but here it is anyway. Some of it needs a rewrite, but it’s not going to happen any time soon, so I’m just posting it as is.
I got another cold, which is why I’ve been a bit quiet. The good news is that this one didn’t affect me too much and I continued to be mostly functional throughout. That said, I did outsource D’s exercise and get him schooled.
So after a few days’ break I came back to the horse I’d left feeling as healthy as [insert comparison of choice] and found him … grumpy as hell. I got on board and we had the following gears, all as a response to asking for a warmup walk: tight little walk, hollow grumpy trot or “I’m about to buck” weird movements. He did not actually buck but after less than a lap of the school like this I needed a new plan.
I knew one major factor in his foul mood was that it was dinner time and he was in the school rather than being fed. When I am at work, several times a week he gets fed late so I can ride on those days without waiting for him to digest. He’s never liked this, but usually once we start working he sighs and forgets his bad mood. However because it’s so very long since I regularly worked full-time, and hence delayed his dinner, I wasn’t surprised that he was cross. Also, I know at this time of year if he’s not very well exercised he’s going to have to do something with all the energy, so I put his behaviour down to a bad mood powered by a lot of excess energy.
I got off. I have no illusions about my sticking power should the buck threats become actual bucks and I have no desire to have him learn he could remove me from his back if he put some effort in. We stayed in the school, because if we left the school he’d won, and from there I called for a member of staff to bring me my lunging gear (I did apologise and explain why).
I lunged him to get the sillies out. Unexpectedly, there was not much sign of temper or excess energy on the lunge. He was pretty sensible … although not going well.
I got back on. And immediately he was tight and unwilling. He didn’t bother with the buck threats but the walk was dreadful – tiny little steps. He responded to any leg with a hollow crappy trot. I stayed on for a bit, to see what he had, and then I got off again and started looking for pain in his right hind quarter. Yup. He’s sore again. With hindsight I should have seen the signs on the lunge, but I wasn’t really looking at how he went, because I was expecting him to be a bit of a nuisance behaviour-wise.
Oh Fates, why have you determined that this horse and I should never be fit and well at the same time?!
Actually I’m not upset. It’s annoying, but we know we can manage this. Hopefully he’ll see the physio tomorrow and she’ll work her wonders on him.
Between the diagnostic ride above and the time of writing we had a couple more rides. He’s always prescribed exercise to fix this, so I don’t have to worry about working him, and I know to revise my expectations. I don’t expect him to properly step under and take weight towards his back-end, because that’s what hurts. I do expect him to listen and try. I don’t expect the full range of exercises I would ask for at other times. I do expect him to try to trust me not to break him.
So for these rides I’ve been totally focussed on asking him to relax and trust me. If I have a muscular issue, the worst thing is tensing up for fear it will hurt. The only way to ease out the muscle is to relax and let it stretch. I can’t imagine it’s any different for him. I realised I was riding in such a way as to try to help him to yoga himself. If he didn’t trot in relaxation, back to walk and try again. If I asked for anything and he gave a non-relaxed reaction I cancelled the request and I think over the course of the rides he started to get the message that I cared more about him doing things with relaxation than doing them “well” or instantly. Each time, by the end of the ride, he was stepping under himself far better, without me having demanded he step under at any point. He’d just relaxed enough and stretched enough that now he could step under much better with the sore leg. At the beginning of the first session every aid I gave was met with “I can’t! I might break!” but I kept asking him to trust and not to panic, and eventually he found that he could trust, he could relax, and he could stretch and step under a little more.
Hopefully he’ll get fixed again quickly and be back to feeling on top of the world. But until then, we can work on trust and relaxation. It’s all a part of the journey.