I think spring is finally on its way! With that, I headed out to the barn to grab my little mare Ticket, for some quality time in the sunshine.
Yesterday was our first day back in the saddle, after about 7 weeks off. Prior to that, we had been riding fairly consistently, 2-3x per week. Which for winter riding (for me) are pretty good stats!
I am a HUGE animal health advocate, likely to the stage of neuroticism with my own horses. After 7 weeks off, you’d never find me loping my horse in a field, or loping at all – for a few weeks at least.
Anything I do with/to my horses, I put myself in their hooves. How do I do that? Well I think about my own fitness at various stages, and relate that back to them.
I stay fairly conditioned year round with living on the farm, and can pretty easily walk 10k a day in the winter without fatigue. I have also recently gone on a hiking vacation where my goal was to push myself beyond my current physical capability, but not to the point where I would be to sore to go on by day 3 or risk an injury for the rest of my trip. So to do that, I considered that hiking with elevation is different than walking, and packing my camera, hydroflask and day tripping backpack adds an additional 15-20 pounds to me, over 15% above my body weight. Although I would have loved to pack up and head out forever, I knew I wasn’t conditioned for that. So instead of being disappointed, I chose trails that were within my capabilities, the higher the elevation, the shorter the distance I chose and ended up averaging about 8k per trip and 1-2000 feet in elevation. By the end of my trip I was not sore at all, the opposite actually, I was gaining strength and endurance to begin my real hiking conditioning – IF I had been able to stay!
So, it was back to reality, and back to how I use this information with the horses.
These last 7 weeks, we have had THE coldest weather on record I believe for 100 years. That meant the horses have been holed up in a corral, walking 30 feet each way from the bale, to the water, to the shelter, repeat. Prior to this cold snap, I try to keep them moving as much as possible in the winter, so their feed had been way out in the field, their bedding 150 yards from that, and the water 250 yards in the opposite direction either of from those stations.
If I had gone from traveling these minimal distances, to this basically sedentary arrangement, for seven weeks – there is no way I would have been conditioned to even walk the 10km I am used to personally.
I use these comparisons to put things in perspective before I throw 15% extra weight on my horse and ask her to perform. What I did, was I started walking her. Down the grid road, we’d go about 4km each day, walking, bonding and enjoying each other’s company. She is new to me so it’s also a great way to see what she’s looky-at before I head out on her back.
Then yesterday, was our first ride of the new season! Wahoo! I *planned* to take her out and walk a few laps in the field, then work on some body control maneuvers, and put her up.
Those who know horses, know that any time you have a *plan* your horse intuitively knows that *plan* and goes “LOL NO!” So, with that being said, we headed out, and not 2 minutes in, she caught sight of a TINY WHITE DEVIL RABBIT over a hundred yards away, hopping in the other direction away from us. Ticket alerted me to the situation, screamed DANGER! and proceeded to lose her ever loving mind.
So now we are prancing, spinning, and bolting around the field, of which was still slightly deeper with snow than I had anticipated it being; and I have two problems on my hand – needing to school the brain of my physically unconditioned mare, and keeping her body healthy.
The prior teachings of some great people I’ve been blessed to learn from came to my brain like flashbacks… “heart attacks are free… let her have one” and “never neutralize energy - teach them to harness that energy, put it to good use, and use their body.” Although we were ideally a few weeks away from moving towards this latter lesson, vroom vroom I guess.
So she pranced and had a heart attack in the knee deep snow while I calmly allowed all muscle memory of my dressage days take over, as I talked to myself… “inside leg to outside rein, wait on her, half halt, ahhh there’s the bend, goooood girl, ok we are trotting again, exhale, repeat.”
What I hoped would be a nice 30 minute walk turned in to a 12 minute intense training sesh but concluded with a sweaty dragon standing calmly at the original explosion sight of the fire breathing bunny. All the while we sat there, I wanted to ride longer and actually battled myself on this, but I knew that would be selfish, and not only that, I knew my work now was not done in terms of her health and well being.
This session had started with the intention of training her physically for the season, but derailed into needing to train her mind. These rides can happen at any time, but what was now left over at this time with my unconditioned horse, was needing to take care of her body.
She was such a little eager beaver when we started, she licked and chewed when I put the saddle on, she gobbled up the bit for bridling, I needed to make sure both her mind and her body were in a good place for our next session.
So we went back to the barn and I immediately went to my Hansbo Sport Sweat & Travel Rug and Halter for her. Infused with ceramic and magnetic particles it encourages increased blood flow, oxygenation to the blood, assists with lymphatic drainage and overall relaxation. MY back was more sore after this ride than it was after packing 8 miles in the mountains so I knew hers would be sore too!
The benefits of the ceramic and magnetic therapy are further enhanced through movement, so although our ride was done, I grabbed another fatty from the pasture and off we went on a walk down the road! I was now PRE-habbing her body, and further reinforcing her mind. We went on a lovely walk, and little did THEY know, but I also chose her walking mate strategically as he is a horse that really doesn’t like her! By the time I turned them loose they were cuddling in the corral <3 #missionaccomplished
I also increased her magnesium supplement for a few days to support sore muscles and relaxation as well. Today, before I try to ride again, I will go out and see how she is feeling, I will stretch her out before hand, running through the SULIS method we teach in our Equine First Aid courses and follow up whatever we do today for exercise with another round in her Hansbo.
To close out the day yesterday, afterwards I was doing chores, working in the barn, and went to check on the horses one last time before hanging up my spurs for the night. I stood in the corral a minute, and when Ticket saw me, she came from the bale, walked right up to me and put her head in my hands. I knew at that minute that despite our plans being derailed that day; we did all we could to make the best of it, and there are no lingering negative emotions of our training day as we get back in to the “spring” of things!