Being pregnant is not a process I find enjoyable. Being unable to do stuff because of it sucks. Paying a fortune to keep a horse I can’t ride sucks, especially when I barely have the energy to see and groom him once a week.
At 28 weeks and 5 days pregnant, today I had a nice time with my horse.
I didn’t feel great today, but as Sunday morning is now the only time I see Drifter, I got on with it anyway.
I drove to the yard and got out, taking my lightweight folding chair out of the boot. I walked down the yard with my chair, and immediately realised that because I’d stood up, the toilet needed to be my first stop. I knew pregnant women needed to pee a lot; I never realised how much time it seems to take out of your day when you can’t do anything without it making you need to pee!
Business there concluded, my chair and I proceeded down the yard. Various other liveries wanted to ask how I was, so I unfolded my chair and sat on it while they wanted to talk to me. I have learnt the hard way that without somewhere to sit down the entire ration of energy I brought to spend with Drifter gets spent on standing up for a handful of very similar conversations about how I/baby/Drifter am/is doing, and them observing that they don’t see me that much now. It’s nice that they want to talk to me, but it’s not actually what I came for!
Obligatory small talk done, I made it to Drifter’s stable door and sat down on my chair again for a rest! I realised he wasn’t visible over the door, so eased it quietly open and he was lying down asleep. Adorable. And it was great to have an excuse to sit a bit longer before breaking out the brushes … which I hadn’t yet picked up from the tack room.
Quietly and carefully I moved my chair inside the door of his stable and sat within touching distance. He was aware I was there, but not fully awake and we spent many peaceful minutes doing nothing until he felt like getting up. This horse used to scramble instantly to his feet if anyone caught him lying down, but now I’m allowed to share that time with him.
Eventually he decided to get up, so I went to fetch the brushes. The walk to get them was pretty tiring so I sat down and brushed any bit of him he’d let me reach from my chair. This was playful. He let me get the left side of his face easily, but not the right. The only way to get the right at all was to turn my back and feign disinterest until he came closer again, then I’d get a swipe or two in before he backed up. It was not efficient grooming, but I think we both found it entertaining. We did his front legs in much the same way.
By then I’d got some energy back and stood up to do his mane and tail. His tail is exhausting for me, in part because it’s so thick, but also because it’s only getting done once a week so it’s a mass of tangles. So I did some, sat down, and then got back up to finish the job.
After another sit down I did all the rest of the body and legs. His winter coat is pretty thick but I’m going to hold off getting him clipped if I can – when he has to stop going out every night I’ll get staff riders to hack him, but I’m hoping that being ridden in the middle of the day by staff will mean his coat is more manageable than in previous winters (when I rode at night and couldn’t get him dry before bed if un-clipped). I guess a lot will depend on the weather and how het-up he gets about being ridden by staff. At least I hope to get by with fewer clippings than usual.
So now I had a groomed horse. I went for a wander to check out which schools were in use. The big outdoor had some jumps set up, but enough space at one end for lungeing, so I chose that one. After a conversation about someone’s passed driving test, and another sit down to recover, I grabbed lunge whip, lunge line, headcollar and bell boots, visited the toilet again, and took the items to Drifter. He considered them, and started offering his “yoga” stretches, suggesting that he’d far rather do tricks for treats. This availed him little, as we always do work first and play later, and I hadn’t cued the stretches so there were no treats to be earned. I put the boots and headcollar on before picking out his feet. I’ve always expected him to lift the feet, but now I expect a higher lift so I don’t have to reach down as far. This is easier for him on some legs than others. At last we headed out to the school. He suggested that he would rather be turned out to graze, and I gently overruled.
Once in the school, we walked around and between the jumps. There were a few ground poles and one angled raised pole as well as the jumps. If there are titchy crosspoles we walk over them together, but today it was all far too substantial, so we just went between them. I had him on a line, but aimed to control him as if we were working at liberty, with my body language and just a finger gesture to steer. We did some nice tight figures of eight around pairs of obstacles, and his accuracy in going over the parts of the poles I requested was very good. I was too tired to want to put any but the minimum energy into asking for anything, so every gesture was tiny and any correction just a tiny touch on the line and disapproving noise.
Then we moved to lungeing. At first he wasn’t clear that I was changing the scenario from close work to working at a distance. I think this is because he has to switch brain gear from the intimate signals he and I have developed together for in hand work, to the traditional lungeing behaviour he learnt as a youngster. But once it clicked, he went into lungeing-brain and carried on. He was pretty lazy about it but I didn’t care to put any more energy into the process, and he mirrored my low energy level. I let him potter on, changing between lazy trot and walk quite often. I was aware that there were people observing us, and in their eyes I would be letting him get away without working properly, but it didn’t bother me. We did 5 minutes and then changed the rein. On the second rein after a few minutes I started feeling the watchers’ eyes again, and thought maybe I ought to ask for canter, as much because it was expected as because I wanted it. I thought about it for a while, and then suggested it to Drifter. I kept the request tiny because if he was going to get anxious about the canter I wouldn’t ask again; with a spooky horse lessoning in the next school I didn’t want a trot-buck-buck-gallop-canter transition. If I’m that low energy about things, I expect to get a few “no thank you” answers where he trots a little faster and declines to canter (often because he needs to set up a trot he can canter from, finding the transition hard on the lunge) but today he promptly arranged his legs and got into a no-fuss canter at once. After a single circle I brought him back to trot. Interesting. That was good enough to reward, so I brought him to walk and then halt. I would have stopped there, as I think 5 min on each rein is really enough for his joints, but having cantered only one way, I changed back to the original rein and popped him back up through the gears. Again my canter ask was a mere suggestion, and this time he seemed to consider the option of a buck or gallop, but at my quiet disapproving noise we he went straight to a lovely canter, which I praised and after a single circle, brought him back down through the gears again.
We finished the session with a return to the way we started it, walking over and around obstacles using our “at liberty” language despite him not actually being at liberty. It was easier for him to come from lungeing to liberty brain-mode than it had been to go the other way.
When we were done we headed back to the stable. I had another little sit down; he had a long drink from his water bucket. Once I felt recovered I took his boots off and put everything away… except the carrots.
This time when he offered stretches I was happy to cue the ones I wanted and provide treats for stretches 🙂
Since getting pregnant we haven’t done any clicker training, because he finds it very exciting and I am not prepared to risk handling an excited horse, even if I had the energy. However, the clicker training from the past prepared the way for the relationship we have now. It prepared him for the idea that we can be playful together, and that although sometimes he has to do strictly trained traditional horse & rider things, at other times I might ask him to try something new and unexpected and that there might be something in it for him.
I drove home realising that the morning I’d had was exactly what I’d dreamed of before I bought him. I dreamed of a horse that would pick up on my tiny cues, and do what I asked without fuss. I dreamed of sitting by the side of a snoozing horse, just being together. I dreamed of a partnership and a friendship and a relationship of mutual respect. Of course I thought about doing dressage and maybe jumping, but it would be hard to say how much of that was my own desire and how much peer pressure and social expectation. Yes I do miss riding, but it was never the be all and end all for us.
Both Drifter and I are fat and unfit at the moment. We both have our health issues and I can’t tell what the future holds for us, but today I realised I have my dream horse, and I think he had a good day too.