Just ticking over

Unfortunately the physio stood us up on Friday. To quote Forest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

So how is Drifter? He’s still very stiff. He’s awkward turning in a small space and struggles walking downhill. I haven’t tried trotting under saddle for a while because it scares me. Going for long walks in hand really seems to help, although if they get too long it’s too much for me and I end up with swollen ankles, achy legs and (after prioritising dry feet over comfy ones the other day) blisters. Sigh. But if I’m feeling energetic he’ll trot in hand fairly happily.

The really positive news for him is that it’s officially summer on the yard – we’re on Summer Turnout now! Hurray! The weather’s not been that clement, but nevertheless they’ve been out for 17 hours overnight, every night rather than a measly few hours 3 times a week. This has really taken the pressure off me to keep him moving and I definitely think it’s helping him.

Work has been quite interesting lately, which is great, but it’s been really hard to keep it from taking all the energy I have. How are you supposed to slow down when there are deadlines attached and the things that you’re doing for the deadline are actually fun?! This past week it’s been very hard to do anything outside of work so I’ve been really lucky the horses were out overnight.

We had a walk together on Saturday and it was quite windy. There’s no way I’d hack on the roads when it’s windy but in-hand I had a wary confidence rather than all out fear. He was quite jumpy as we left the yard because, in addition to the wind, a newish mare pony decided it was awful that he was going without her and they called to each other half way up the road. We got to the first T-junction and a plastic bag was “running” along the grass verge in the wind. Drifter suggested that we go home, sharpish. I voted for standing still and looking at it, and in a very short space of time Drifter was ready to follow it curiously to see what he could learn from it. It blew up and flew in front of us, travelling along the middle of the lane, and we followed it at a safe but curious distance. Eventually it descended to earth for long enough for me to get a foot on it and defeat the monster. I’d have liked to get him to sniff it while I had it pinned down, but there was a car coming so I had to scoop up the bag and hustle D into a passing place so we weren’t stood in the middle of the single track lane, blocking the way and sniffing an Asda bag that might or might not eat horses. We continued on our walk with no further incidents.

If we can cope with monsters and cars in quick succession, even a windy day holds no fear 🙂

Back on the rollercoaster. A long post.

Unfortunately Drifter still hasn’t seen the physio. That’s a story I’m not going into. While we wait, we’ve carried on with gentle rides where I ask very gradually to see what he can give me while we keep him moving to avoid stiffness. We went for a lovely in-hand walk at the weekend as well, this time going through the village.

The Village Hack, as it is known, is shorter than The Belfry (which is the way I usually go) but I very rarely do it because I hate the parked cars by the village shop, which go around the corner with a nasty blind bend, so everyone is on the same side of the road with blind corners and it does not make me happy. I hate being a vehicle there, whether I’m in my car or on my horse. Apparently though, I’m absolutely fine with being a pedestrian. It’s really odd, but going through that part of the route I felt fine as a pedestrian with a horse in hand, striding down the middle of the only part of road available. As we carried on through the residential bit afterwards I felt so proud to be out in the sunshine with my shiny, beautiful and obedient horse. I never feel proud when I’m hacking. I feel scared and embarrassed and somehow in the way, even when there are no other road users in sight. It was really nice to be out enjoying the sights and sounds and sunshine with my shiny horse-boy for company.

But I had to get back on the next day to get him to work a little. After a busy Monday at work I was not in the mood for much riding – I planned to hop on, do a very little work and hop off again. Hah. Fate heard me again.

After a quick groom and tack up, I mounted near the H/C corner and we walked along the short side towards the C/M corner. This walk was tight and uncomfortable. Drifter was definitely not happy, but perhaps he’d relax into it? We reached the C/M corner and instead of turning around it to proceed, he stopped. I nudged him and he bucked. And bucked. And bucked. Not with any great force, but with a consistent insistence. If I asked him to come out of the corner, which was the only way to go, he bucked. I wanted to get off, but the fence was there on our left hand. I couldn’t get down unless he came out of the corner and he seemed quite firm that he did not want to come out of the corner. So I held onto the saddle, asked and he bucked his little bucks of refusal. I didn’t feel in any danger of coming off, unless he was going to ramp it up a lot more, but it was not a great situation. I could hear a staff member within shouting distance so I asked her to bring lunge line and whip (deja vu anyone?) so if I managed to get off I’d be able to assess him from the ground.

For some reason, this request seemed to be the trigger he needed to get out of the corner. He set off suddenly in a panicky trot, interspersed with a few tiny bucks. I was not letting go of the saddle, because I had no idea what was going to come next and sat in to wait untill he stopped, doing little in the way of asking for anything apart from suggesting he come away from the fence. Eventually we negotiated a stop away from the fence and I got off.

Lunging gear arrived, I ran up the stirrups, swapped the reins for the line and started lunging on the left rein; he was stiff but not awful and not bucking. So I switched him over to the right rein. Head up, he squealed and immediately went into “running away trot.” So I had a horse that couldn’t bend/turn right, but could manage left. That explained why we got stuck in the corner.

What could I do now? I knew I was supposed to keep him in ridden work, but I was not happy to get back on a horse that was obviously only able to turn in one direction. I took him out of the school to find someone for advice.

A staff member who I don’t know that well suggested I trot him up for her and then suggested the saddle might be a problem. “Oh no”, I said confidently, “It’s only two and a half weeks since we had [the saddle fitter] out.” But as I spoke her hands were under the saddle, finding a tightness over, (did you guess it?), the right shoulder.

I felt really stupid for not finding that myself, and have given myself a sharp talking to about it. I do trust my saddle fitter. I do believe she is very good at her job and I will still use her again. I also believe even the best of us make mistakes or have off days, and I think this is what happened here.I do not believe that in less than three weeks he put on much weight, particularly as I reduced his food two weeks ago and the grass in their field is eaten so short there’s virtually nothing there.

I took the saddle off. I lunged him in each direction. He was a different horse. He still didn’t move brilliantly (but we know he’s sore at the back) but he was so much calmer. In fact, he didn’t want to move. When I tried lunging in the saddle he wasn’t interested in walking because he needed to run away. Without the saddle he just wasn’t interested in moving at all, but in a lazy way that was far more positive than the panicky trotting.

So, the saddle. Choirs of angels sang the praises of the Bates adjustable air flocking system. I knew that when we saw the saddle fitter she’d inserted a pair of inserts and I knew how to get them out again. Once I had tracked down a suitable screwdriver to borrow from the yard (I keep meaning to buy one to keep with my stuff in the tack room but it hasn’t happened yet) I opened it up and had a look. She’d put in 8mm inserts. Rather than just whipping those out I switched them over for some 4 mm ones we’d used before so the saddle would be that little bit wider at the front pads. I put everything back together and tried it on him. It looked good and felt good.

I got back on. Once he got over his initial expectation of discomfort Drifter relaxed. What a relief. We were back to just having issues at the back-end, which we know about and can deal with. We had a decent-ish ride. I am supposed to try for all three gaits, so we had a little canter in each direction, even though it’s rather unbalanced and unpleasant to ride. Unfortunately on the left rein he had a little stumble. It wasn’t enough for either of us to fall, but after it he was reluctant to do much more work (he was happy to slob around on a loose rein, but resisted my shortening it, which is not like him), so I suspect he may have some soreness from the stumble now as well. Argh! To be honest though I’d had more than enough myself, so we just wandered around on the long rein for a bit so he could stretch everything out.

I’m used to horse owning being a rollercoaster, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been up and down so much in one evening!

The next he was turned out but not ridden. When I got on the day after that he felt really weird. I felt like his right hip was really coming up and forwards under me but the left side wasn’t moving much. I walked for a bit to see if it would go away, and then got off. In hand he was stiff, particularly turning, but trotted up sound. Actually I think he hides it better in a trot up than in a walk, but all advice was to get back on and take it easy, which I did, and the oddness did reduce over the ride as he moved through the stiffness. I know that when the physio comes she will wave her magic wand and he’ll be back to feeling fabulous, but the waiting is not easy. Hopefully next week…

I suppose the silver lining is that this is stopping me from overdoing it in the saddle. Meh. The chance would be a fine thing!

Taking a horse for a walk

l don’t really like hacking. I think it might be different if we had off-road hacking, or even slightly straighter roads so you could see a car before it was on top of you (although I suppose in that case most people would drive faster). But everyone (including Lee Pearson) tells me how beneficial it is and how I must make more effort to get out more often.

Yesterday we had a nice day when I happened to be off during the week (so the roads ought to be quiet during the day) and l thought I really ought to hack. To be honest I didn’t feel much like riding and suddenly it occurred to me that I could just walk him like a dog.

I realised there were lots of positives about that idea. He would get the mental stimulation of being out and about but with the added confidence giver of me being on the ground. I’d be more confident about traffic as a pedestrian because I feel like some drivers treat ridden horses like any other vehicle but give a dog walker more leeway. I’d also get a long bout of non-riding exercise, which seems useful for my recovery, without having to separately exercise D.

We got ready to go out. I wanted to lead from a bridle so I had the bit for control, and I added his red fly bonnet for practicality and visibility. My hi-vis jacket and his hi-vis leg bands completed the look from a visibility angle and l decided to use my helmet and his knee boots just in case. (With the knee boots I thought he’s probably far less likely to damage his knees without weight on his back, but the road is still as hard.) A good squirting of home-made fly spray for each of us, I grabbed my purple schooling whip with the yellow baling-twine on the business end and we set off.

An aside about my schooling whip: The original stringy bit on the business end fell off and got lost the first day I used it. lt had been the last whip of that kind in the shop and I didn’t like the balance of the others in my price-range. So I improvised a new end from the materials available and sewed it on. Scornful onlookers said it wouldn’t last the week. One year on, it’s still doing an excellent job. On the roads I love that this whip is eye-catching. I love that the lemon-yellow baling-twine contrasts with the stick and is similar to our yellow hi-vis, so I like to think if I waved it at a driver it might have more psychological impact than a black one. I love that, unlike a crop, it is long enough to employ to find a go button without taking a hand off the reins. If we are hacking and he is getting upset about something, this is a very valuable thing!

Anyway, off we went. We started off with me leading him from his left, as is conventional, but I soon decided l wanted to be between him and any traffic, so I swapped sides. I do occasionally try to lead him from the wrong side so I knew he’d do it grudgingly. He snorted about it for a bit but walked nicely even as he snorted. With the schooling whip in my outside hand I could reach behind me to tap his quarters over to the hedge if necessary and leading off the bit I had control of the front. I felt I had really good control of him and I was pleased. Before we saw any traffic we practiced going into passing spaces and stopping there, and when we did see cars it all worked just as smoothly. In fact there was one passing place that we used about 4 times: l stopped him in it for practice, and then heard an actual car, so we waited. Once it passed we walked on three paces and another car came around the corner, so I turned him and went back to it. Then the next two times we tried exactly the same thing happened! Finally we carried on uninterrupted and with me feeling really confident about my ability to quickly get him out of the way.

We carried on happily. We were following the route that takes about an hour to hack, so when we set out I wasn’t sure whether I had the stamina to walk all the way around or if I’d turn back at some point to make it shorter, but I was feeling good. About 20 minutes in another hacker trotted up behind us, an elderly lady from another yard. l stopped D at the edge of the road so she could pass but she stopped to check on us, assuming I’d fallen off. She seemed quite incredulous that we were just going for a walk but, once reassured, she checked that D would be OK with her trotting again once she was past us. I told her that would be fine – the horse is very sensible; it’s just the rider who’s scared of hacking! And he was fine. He would have liked to follow her, but didn’t make any fuss.

In fact, everything was going so well I let him have a little trot too – yes that means I did some running! It was not unpleasant, considering. D was concentrating on me, so I had total control of the pace, so we had a few little trots with walking in between. I’d realised that there was a place ahead where we could get off the road enough for me to have a rest and for him to have a little graze. So after our little trots we did that. l toyed with sitting on the grass holding the reins while he grazed but we were only on a bit of grass next to the lane and I didn’t know how he’d be if something came past us in a hurry so I stood until something passed, and then as he wasn’t bothered by it I squatted on my heels as a compromise. Probably sitting would have been fine, as even when we were passed by a big repair van with flashing lights and a cherry-picker on the roof he just picked his head up to look. Good grass is far more important than monsters it seems.

After our rest we continued without incident past barking dogs and got to the (now parked) van with the cherry-picker, now extended and containing a man repairing the overhead wires. Happily D’s need to goggle at that coincided with my need to stop at the T junction and wait for a car to pass. Once I was ready, he was ready too. We passed the squealing children on the slide outside the children’s farm, passed a motorbike who, kindly and unasked, came to a complete stop to avoid any possible equine concern, got into passing places for numerous cars going to and from the farm, all with children in the back delighted to see another horse, and then we were home again.

I was so proud of us. I had no idea l could walk that far, let alone do little bits of running too. We’d been considerate road-users and neither of us freaked out at any point. I’d certainly do it again and I found it far more pleasurable than hacking.