Sunday, January 20, 2013

A different lesson than expected but good nonetheless

"I really need to ride Calabar a lot for the next two weeks," I said to myself two weeks ago, "So we're ready for our clinic with Ellen."

Unfortunately, that just didn't happen.

I rode him some, I worked him more than I had the previous two weeks, but the consistency we both need and had gotten used to was definitely absent.

Come to find out that the riding part was not necessarily the most important thing missing.

Those that have read this blog a long time can remember a few times where lack of consistency has led to bad manners returning in my big, brown mirror. This round is really no different and he reminded me today that my attention has been scattered lately and he has indeed noticed. It's not so bad at home, but in a "new" environment, it was much amplified.

Even after all the work we did, Calabar was still sure things were a little scary. Must. Get. Out. More.
When I'm in a hurry, trying to squeeze in care for the two rehabs under my supervision as well as tending my own horse, I have a bad tendency to let things slip with Calabar. I know him. I trust him to at least be the horse I know so sometimes don't correct him as quickly or forcefully as is needed. He is allowed in my bubble because he's proven (in the past) that he is worthy of that trust, but that means when he bounces because he's testing the bubble, I need to remind him what exactly is acceptable behavior and what is not. In no uncertain terms. So there.

Maybe that didn't happen enough over the last two weeks. Maybe he is grumpy (or relieved) that I'm spending time with other horses that are not him. Maybe it is a combination of many things, further compounded by me letting bad behavior slide.

Whatever it is, we both needed a lesson today about respect and personal space and how to prevent turd-like behavior. It started on our way to the round pen to warm up because I knew we had to work some stuff out before I got on his back. He was big, explosive and not careful about me--things we had worked on and overcome and things I had let slide in the last month or so.

I worked him around me, direction changes, off-line, on-line, got his attention and focus--or so I thought.

"Is he normally hard to bridle?" Ellen asked, watching me struggle to get the headstall on my normally quite easy to bridle horse. "No," I said. "This must be frustrating," Ellen replied. "Yes, it is," I admitted. It was frustrating and if I'd had more pride, it would have been embarrassing, too. More pride or higher expectations--both of which would not have served Calabar or me well in this instance. We had to take several steps back which actually turned out to be okay for us.

"Why don't we go back to the round pen," Ellen suggested after trying to bridle him herself and being the recipient of his rude behavior and deciding he needed a little work on the respect issue. Maybe more than a little.

Luckily, no one got hurt in the process, though Calabar showed Ellen an OTTB can pout. Expressively. "I hope you don't think I'm being mean to him," Ellen said at one point. "Nope," I replied as she backed him away from her, swinging his clip up into his chin when he didn't respond. (Hence the pouting.) He may have thought she was being mean, but in the end he decided he didn't want to be in charge and he could and would listen.

Ellen held Calabar while I went to get his bridle to try that exercise again. He automatically tried to follow me and while she corrected him for not paying attention to who held the lead rope, she liked that he wanted to be with me. That's my big brown mama's boy. He did accept the bit and bridle and then waited at the gate until I gave him permission to exit and we even had a few minutes left in our slot to actually ride.

I should have been more nervous about getting on, but I must have dissipated all my anxiety somewhere along the way--not to mention Ellen's gentle way of instructing without criticizing put me at ease and allowed me to listen and subsequently learn.  

After all that, my boy got compliments on his gait and movement. "He looks really good!" said both Ellen and my long-time horsey friend Katie Dougherty Kunde. Katie has known me throughout this journey and has probably wondered many times about my sanity.

"His trot is so much more forward!" Katie said.

"He is moving beautifully," said Ellen, "and you are riding much more relaxed."

So even if the riding part of our session was short-lived and things didn't go exactly as planned, my horse learned and I learned. And people I respect told me we've both made a lot of progress. (Insert big grin here because it's still on my face.) Steve also added to the afterglow, giving me a kiss and telling me how proud he is of me and how well I handled my horse today. (Bigger grin.)

Oh, and Lena and Allie did great and also got a few things to work on. Love the spotty mare. Here they are--shot is across the alley from the trailer because Mr. Worried Pants really needed company--as evidenced in the above shot. (No, Calabar. Timmy did not fall in the well. Everything is fine. Eat your hay.)

Lena working on her hind end. Allie in her cute jacket. Steve staying warm.
There is more to do for sure, but really? This all feels pretty good right now.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What could have been

There have been many times over the last couple of years when I've wondered what it would have been like if I'd gotten Calabar right off the track instead of a few years later. Would it have been better? Worse? Harder? Easier? Watching Katie with Forrest, I thought maybe it would have been less challenging to transition Calabar, less time for him to have decided he was retired before I started asking him to work again.

It only looks like jail, Dixie.
Getting to know Dixie is altering that perception just a little bit. Dixie is a racehorse in mind, body and spirit. She is a racehorse cooped up in a stall right now, but she is still a racehorse. Forrest was not a racehorse and his energy, while not damped in any way, is totally different.

Calabar was a racehorse, too. He knew what it was like to dig in and pass all the competition, what it was like to stand in the winner's circle basking in the glow of victory and have your picture taken. But after his last race, he had time off in a good-sized paddock--time to come down from the track and heal physically from his bowed tendon, time to move stiff muscles about and figure out his body in fresh air and open spaces.

Dixie still has the track energy inside--the electricity flowing under her skin--and is confined to a stall that doesn't really give her enough room to let any of it out. For all of that, she is good around humans. She feels your energy in a physical way--you don't have to touch her to move her away from you, just push air at her. In that, she is better than Calabar. He would push his big body into your space, shoulder you out of the way, where Dixie will usually bounce sideways away from you.

But that spark, that drive to move, the itch under her skin you can almost see? That is like my horse. It is what makes him do airs above the ground on cold winter evenings when it's been too muddy to romp in his paddock. It's what bursts out in him with bucks and farts and squeals and impressive leaps over the same obstacles he trips over when he's being lazy.

It is what makes him Calabar, what makes my breath catch in my throat just watching him fly.

I am supremely grateful I have (knock wood) not yet had to confine my big brown horse to a stall. Not sure either the stall or Calabar would survive the experience and am pretty sure neither would make it through unscathed.

I know Dixie will get there. She will heal from the hairline fracture and be able to frolic and buck and fart and squeal--I really can't wait to see it. We just have to get through the next month or so of stall rest where the itch under her soft brown coat must be truly unbearable some days.

Napping in the wide open muddy paddock is a good thing for ex-racehorses
We can do this, Dixie Girl. And Calabar will be waiting to show you the ropes when you're out of jail.