These past few weeks have reminded me that with horses, you never stop learning, and you may never get away from the panicky feeling that “omigod there’s so much I don’t know must go home and buy many books.” Mae, the horse I’m riding, has an old stifle injury, in addition to some problems with her feet. A few weeks ago, I took my first trip ever to the UC Davis large animal clinic to see what’s going on with her. I’ve really never had to deal with a lot of lameness issues, which is great in almost every way, but it does mean there’s kind of a hole in my education, one quickly being filled with anatomy lessons and lameness research reading.
But the best part about my ignorance is that I am supremely optimistic about Mae’s prognosis, and I wasn’t in the least bit bummed to learn that she’s only allowed to walk under saddle for five weeks. I thought it might be fun to shake up the routine and spend some time out of the arena. We’re on week four now, and I daresay I am still enjoying it! These are some of my favorite things I’ve discovered about caring for a semi-laid-up horse.
- You try things you might not try otherwise. I haven’t ridden bareback in at least ten years, which really ought to be considered a crime. But since we’re just walking, it seems a shame to get out my saddle every time, so I gave it a shot. Getting on was a real challenge, arms and legs flailing everywhere, and then once I was on, I couldn’t believe how hard it was to balance and how insecure I felt. I had a dumb moment where I thought to myself how incredible it was that I could feel all her muscles moving underneath me. (DUH.) I also had forgotten how uncomfortable a horse’s back is without a nice cushy saddle! All around, I felt like an incomplete horseman and I vow to get on bareback at least once a week…and I bought a bareback pad.
- You can focus on groundwork (aka “manners”). I can’t be the only person guilty of falling prey to this scenario. You get to the barn kind of late, you’re rushing a bit to get on before dark, your horse is being a brat during the walk to the barn, but you overlook it because, well, the sun is going down and you want to ride. Not anymore. There’s nothing to rush for but walking, walking, and more walking, so if Mae wants try to run me over, which I can only interpret as an expression of her desire to focus on groundwork today, that’s just fine with me.
- Quality time with your mount. I sometimes feel the pressure to ride every time I go to the barn. I feel like I have so much to learn that if I pass up an opportunity to practice, I’m wasting time. Obviously, that’s silly, because the best part about riding is the partnership you build with your horse, and you really build that relationship while grooming, grazing, gazing into each others’ eyes lovingly, etc. So it’s nice to have a reason to spend my time at the barn just watching her eat, or brushing and brushing and brushing.
- Time to think (or not). One of my favorite things about riding is how it forces you to be completely in the moment. When I’m riding, I’m not thinking about work, or the cat food I need to buy this week, or the laundry I forgot in the washer. I’m not thinking at all. It’s important to have something that forces you to get out of your head. Being out of work and a bit at sea right now, I probably need that more than ever, but it’s also nice to just have time and space to think while out on the trail, and observe, and talk to Mae about my problems. What good listeners horses are. And when I get tired of the sound of my own voice, I listen to podcasts.
- Woof Wear’s Track My Hack app. I really like data and statistics. I used to keep a journal of exactly how many minutes I’d ridden every day, but the Track My Hack app is so much better. I love checking the app after a hack and seeing if I can guess the distance, or finding out if we beat yesterday’s distance. On days that I decide I need the exercise and choose to hand walk, it’s a great pedometer. (On those days, we walk much, much smaller distances.)
So, until I have to do this for several months on end, or until I’m repeatedly disappointed because a horse’s lameness is thwarting competition plans, I will see time off as exactly that and enjoy it as much as possible!