Friday, August 10, 2012

The perfect horse

He looks so happy and relaxed--dinner time!
Working in the world of re-homing Off-Track Thoroughbreds the last several months has been both rewarding and only sometimes annoying. (See my mild rant here). It has also made me appreciate my horse and the depth of commitment I feel towards him. Some might hear my story and say I have a blind spot where Calabar is concerned, but I prefer to think of it as a stubborn streak. It's still only half the story. The other half is the fuzzy brown horse on this journey with me--my version of the perfect horse because he has been perfect for me in many, many ways.

Perfect, but not easy.

Calabar, is smart and affectionate but he is not a push-button horse. It used to be that he was not easy for me to stay on, and there were more than a few times we parted company in spectacular fashion. Now that I ride better, he is challenging me mentally as we work on increasing his skill-set from trail riding and meandering around the arena to a little dressage work. "How much do you want me to trot in that circle, change directions and keep going? Okay, I did that can we do something fun, now? Like eat dinner?" Luckily, our goal is not the show ring--or if it is, I'm not in any particular hurry to get there--and we can take lessons and try things to see what works for us.

Cross over in back!
Neigh Savers does get people checking out our ex-racehorses as potential show horses, though, and we have had several very successful graduates, like Warning Zone. And some ex-racehorses can even go to upper level competitions--just look at this list from this year's Rolex to see an impressive list of OTTB competitors.

But all of it takes commitment, patience and at least a little time--even if your goal is just to hack around on trails. In some ways, it might be better not to take too much time--barring injuries--to at least get your new OTTB settled into a new routine away from the track. Forrest, for example, had hardly any down time and he is an eager beaver as far as work goes and has managed to stay sound. (Except for a self-inflicted gate injury, that is.)

Calabar had a couple years off before I got him and he perhaps thought retirement suited him. It doesn't. He is a much better horse now that he gets regular exercise and attention, even if we have to argue a little sometimes about how much is too much. He was a sprinter, you see, so we affectionately refer to his attention span as six-furlongs long. I use that limit to our advantage, though, because honestly it matches my own. There really is only so long I can do one thing and it seems we are twinsies in this regards. It also helps me to push him past his limit, teaching me to stay focused just a little bit longer each time until we get the right thing. Or at least a little closer to the right thing. Then we do something else for a little while before returning to what we need to work on. It keeps both of us entertained that way and we still make progress. That's a trick I wouldn't have if it weren't for the big brown horse and I suspect it will come in handy with other horses I meet.

Luckily, except for one abscess and the mystery football knee, Calabar has (knock wood) always been sound--even on his bowed tendon. Sometimes he is sore and stiff, especially in winter, and sometimes after a tough trail ride he likes a little liniment and a day off. So do I, so he gets both. I view his aches and pains from the perspective of my own aches and pains. He's an ex-super athlete, and like a lot of us--even those of us who were only mortal athletes--there are places that hurt if we sit still too long. My knees are actually noisier than Calabar's and the worst thing I can do to them is sit at my desk all day. The more we learn how to get him in frame, the better his body will work, too, but mainly it's important to keep him moving. I use yoga to strengthen my own core and stretch stiff parts and walk nearly daily for cardio. In fact, Calabar is my inspiration to stay in shape and keep my weight down--he has to carry me after all, so I try to do my part to make it comfortable for him. If I'm strong and active, I'm more able to move with him--or at least stay out of his way--and that makes us a better team.

"K, you were right. THIS is fun!"
That teamwork, this journey we've had, has changed me in so many ways--mentally and physically--and I love where we are now and where I can see us starting to go. Calabar is who he is and he always brings it all to the table. His challenge to me is to be a better horse person each and every day. My challenge to him is to trust me when I say, "No, really! This will be fun!" 

1 comment:

Kate said...

Wrestling, and tussling, and struggling together can really make a difference to a partnership - I know that OTTB mind and how important it is that they bond with you.