Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dark Days

I had a feeling that the start of winter would halt our rides temporarily, and I was right. We don’t really have snow yet, but the days are short and dark and temperatures are generally in the 30s, and even lower at night. There were some glorious riding days earlier in the month, and the weather was especially nice the last two days we rode.

I had one really nice ride right after my lesson with Jesse, where I worked on the things I’d learned in my lesson. It was the first time I’ve ever been able to take something from a lesson and apply it to my horse without any instruction. I worked on flexion on straight lines and curves and although Sofie can be pretty stiff, we got some nice moments when she retained the flexion when I gave the reins forward, and we even did a few pretty nice, flexed trot transitions.

The next ride was not so good, as Sofie was distractible and stiff and I was subsequently not in a good headspace. I felt like we had absolutely nothing, and the ride just deteriorated from there. I think several factors were at play. It was a nice, cool evening, there was activity around the barn, and Sofie wanted to go “fast” but was restricted by her hocks. She was quite lame after I got done riding, and I had to realize that, once again, what seems like a training issue is usually a physical problem with this horse.

Our last ride was on a gorgeous, warm day, and I just wanted to go on a trail ride. I let Sofie walk on and focused on my position, and she seemed to enjoy herself on the trail. Back in the yard, I worked on flexion a bit, and she was quite stiff much of the time. It was frustrating in the moment, but I know she’ll find it easier when her hock issues aren’t so bad.

In the past, I’ve always known when Sofie needed a break from weight-bearing because she told me, in no uncertain terms, to get the F off. This time, she never balked, flattened her ears or resisted, but she kept going lame when I rode her, even at a walk only. She would start head bobbing at the trot, or even short striding with her left hind at the walk and lifting it off the ground in obvious irritation when she stood in the aisle or the field. She’s never really been lame before, but fortunately it seems to be a hock issue. We had three months of riding, and the last month was amazing, just like earlier in the year. Right now I’m pretty much hand walking and lightly free schooling Sofie, and she’s being sensible. She lies down when her hock is ouchy, and she’s definitely not overdoing the exercise. She seems in good spirits and is improving with the relative rest. In light of what I’ve read on some of my favorite blogs recently, I feel grateful for that.

I was definitely feeling low for a while in there. Sofie going lame coincided with my going to a couple of the fancy barns in the area for lessons and to try out potential horses to lease while she was out of commission. I saw other horses that were sound and trained, many of which were standing around much of the time, unused by their ultra-rich owners, and it was hard. It just made me wonder, did I make the right decision? And the thing is that I don’t know. I don’t know if Sofie will ever be sound, or if she will always have mental and physical limitations. I don’t know if it’s right to try to make her into a dressage horse, or if she would be happier as somebody’s trail horse. I love her, and when she’s on, she’s amazing. But sometimes I just think, will I ever be able to work on circles with her? Flexion? Is it even fair to her?

There’s no way of knowing any of that now. What I do know is that, one year and eight months ago, she was the right horse. I know that with absolute certainty. She taught me how to deal with horses on the ground. Through her I've met wonderfully inspirational horse professionals and learned about barefoot trimming, alternative therapies and groundwork. I now have an eye and a feel for lameness that I didn't have (or didn't trust that I had) before. Because of Sofie I can ride out in a huge field without anyone holding my hand and telling me what to do. She’s making me a trainer, and we may not be technically correct in pretty much any aspect of our riding, but right now it doesn’t matter because she’s taught me things, invaluable things that no trainer possibly could.

I don’t know if she will be the right horse forever, but I know that everyone who meets Sofie loves her, and if I ever need to move on I have to believe she will find someone. I won't throw her away, and I won't pass her on to someone who isn't right for her. Unless/until that time when we need to part comes I’ll keep doing my best to work with her, and she will keep teaching me how to ride her, and anything else I need to know.

One more thing. November has been kind of a dark month for beloved mares in the blog world, it seems, and I feel kind of petty, honestly, for fretting about hock flare-ups and training issues. Everyone's in their own little world to some extent, I suppose, and each person's little disasters shine brighter than those around them. But Denali's Mom is facing the loss of a horse that she has put a whole lot into and clearly loves. I can see why, and I wanted to share a little of Denali. There have been a lot of emotional posts on her Denali's Mom's blog lately, but this post was particularly moving for me. You can really see the connection. You can see why this horse means so much to her people.



  1. A very thoughtful post, and fair-minded, I think. Part of owning a horse is to keep the dialog of understanding flowing, even when it leads us to start wondering whether the horse we have is the right horse for us. It seems to me that, while you have every right to wonder about your future with Sophie, you are the right person for her. You've brought her a long way. And writing about her hock and training problems doesn't seem at all petty; it's part of the spectrum of your love for her, and no one would ever begrudge you that. Good job.

  2. Hang in there. Like you, I purchased a trail horse. He didn't know the aid for canter much less how to bend at first. I've had him a year and a half. We went through the hock issue too. Maybe I worked him to hard, too fast or maybe he banged himself. I'll never know. But, after six frustrating months of rest, then meds and finally hock injections he is finally sound (knock on wood). I love his heart and his level head on the trail and that he tries really hard. We'll never go to Gladstone and that's okay. We're having fun and learning a lot together. Keep at it-