Saturday, October 8, 2011
Rides, Hoof Photos, Soreness and Luck
This will be a long post, as I have a lot to cover.
Sofie is starting to get sore. I can tell in little ways, like when she actually puts her ears back when semi-resisting going down a hill (the only way to the valley and the lovely continuation of our trails). She's not lame or anything, but little things about her demeanor and performance just say "OUCH".
I had the first inclination that she might be a little overworked when she bucked in the canter and then veered sharply toward home. But that was at the end of a two-plus-hour ride, so I didn't know if it was just fatigue or if all the work we'd been doing was starting to catch up with her.
I brought my dad out to the barn to take some video of us, since things had been going so well. My plan was to have him take some canter video in the valley, so I could then pull some stills and have some lovely canter shots! Very nice plan, however, we waited just slightly too long to get him out there. I could kinda tell Sofie was not right, after hacking over and doing some more walk work in the valley, but I put her into the trot to see what would happen. Her ears went back, and she started rushing, legs just flying around as she veered back and forth, feeling extremely tight and upset. She broke into the canter of her own accord at least once, and just had trouble getting settled in the trot. It felt, to me, like she knew what I wanted and she really wanted to do what I wanted, but it hurt and she was anxious and a little angry at the same time she was trying so hard to do the right thing.
Since my dad was there, and she wasn't head-bobbing or anything, I rode her in the valley for a little bit (no more than ten or fifteen minutes, I would guess) and coaxed some passable trot work out of her, plus a few canters (a couple that were pretty short-lived, and a couple longer, straight-line canters). She was incredibly good and I think it's a testament to our journey and our time together that she was willing to do that for me.
Once I'd gotten my little bit of canter video, I stopped, petted, hopped off and quickly reviewed it (her canter looks beautiful, even though she's not at her best! What a good girl). Sofie stood rather impatiently, tossing her head a little bit, either due to lingering discomfort, or maybe she just wanted to get moving again. Possibly a combination of the two. I remounted and headed off for the trails. I figured I would just do an easy, walking trail ride, then head back.
The trail ride was lovely, and I stared at the brilliant fall colors with Sofie walking easily along. We headed home through the valley, and she was rushing a bit in the walk, thinking about either going home or cantering. I realized I had neglected to do very much walk work in the valley, and it was bugging me, so I turned her around and did some work on easy walk circles, just trying to get her listening to my aids, not drifting too badly, and I wanted her shoulder aligned properly. It took some work, but she improved in the walk. So I asked her to trot, just to see how she was doing (and to school the trot without cantering, which we had, uh, also neglected to do in the valley!).
From the beginning she was very much improved in the trot. She was trotting steadily without the earlier anticipation and ouchy, pissed off edge. She was doing so well that I got sucked into working on our dressage (of course) and did some turns and circles, with emphasis on getting her shoulder aligned. She had some difficulty in the usual spots (mostly slight downhill slopes) but she did great! She worked happily, too, until I did a few turns in a row down a slope, working on the balance. After a few of those she put her ears back and slowed in the trot, like "Enough." So I did one more turn, got what I wanted, halted, patted her and quit. I was encouraged by her (mostly) cheerful trot work after the longer warm-up, but I had already figured out that I probably needed to scale back our rides even more.
With plans to scale back on our riding, I decided on a trail-only ride. I wanted to practice riding on the road, so we could hopefully find other trails and meet new people (all that good stuff). First, though, I went on a short ride around the perimeter of the property with a girl who recently moved her horse to the equestrian center. She has a rather different riding background and she tells some very interesting stories! I enjoy her company. After we parted ways, I went on with my plan to ride down the road.
Sofie was wiggly at first and a little obnoxious about leaving home. We were both a little tense on the road at first, and I had to hold her in place and keep her from drifting onto (or off) the shoulder. However, she went past two barking dogs in the very first yard without spooking and we kept going without incident. We only had one tiny spook, and a couple times she stopped and stared ahead at something. Once it was because she saw two very large black Labradors. Once I figured out their yard was fenced, I asked her to walk on and she did (I was glad they were inside a fence, otherwise I might’ve turned right around!). The dogs barked, but Sofie was unimpressed (“Uh, they’re inside a fence, who cares?”). The owner of the Labs also commented on how beautiful Sofie was. Team Sofa! I should sell T shirts…
We got to the end of the road, where we wandered past the big “Equestrian Center this way!” sign. I was apprehensive, but I decided to practice crossing the highway. I halted her across from a driveway, and waited for a break in traffic. I was really nervous, but Sofie was so good. She went across the highway with no problems and kept going, down the driveway and into a junky-looking storage yard full of trucks, trailers and scrap metal. She took a look at a couple things but bravely walked on as I looked for a place to ride. There was no one around, and I knew of a trail somewhere in that area, so I was in the mood for exploring. Besides, we were over there now, so why not?
At the edge of the storage yard, I saw a space between the trees, and rode through it. I quickly found an actual trail, the long grass flattened by ATV traffic! The trail was nice and straight, flat, with good footing. Some of it was more wooded and closed in, and then occasionally there was an open area from which I could see the highway. The trail did lack the pristine beauty of the trails near the barn, but it was a refreshing change of scenery and it’s always fun to see something new. I’m pretty sure it was an actual trail, and that I wasn’t just trespassing the whole time, although at one point the trail went right past someone’s house! (Thank goodness they weren’t home! Otherwise, awkward…)
Speaking of awkward, at one point the trail passed this pile of junk - old mattresses, bulletin boards and sheets of metal, all shot up full of holes. On the ground, about five million shells. As we walked through there, I looked around, thinking “Hmm, I’m riding through an area where rednecks come to shoot at things…THIS is smart!” It was kind of funny, really. No rednecks appeared (WIN!) so we kept going, enjoying a brief canter through an open stretch. We followed the trail until it opened up to another road, two miles from the equestrian center. I didn’t feel like going further, so we turned back.
I did a little trotting in the open area. Sofie was rushing and not listening to half halts, so we had to work on that a little. I wound up turning her around, just to test the forward heading away from home. She was VERY wiggly, swinging back and forth, which was a bit obnoxious. I kept her going in that direction until I was satisfied with her straightness, then turned back toward home and worked a little more on trotting (and listening). She was heavy and the straightness wasn’t there, so I decided to do a tiny bit of circling work, just to get her balanced. We found an area with a very slight slope and did several circles in each direction. At first, she was heavy, not listening to my seat and needing a lot of hand. She fell out of balance on the downhill slope and popped her shoulder the wrong way. But after a few repetitions she became light, and maintained her rhythm all around the circle. With inside leg at the right time, and a little support with both the inside and outside rein, she kept a fairly consistent bend around an entire right circle. Happy and pleased, I rewarded her and headed back home, walking the rest of the way. I think it’s good to do little bits of dressage work in different places. I’ve always liked short sessions, and it’s especially important to keep it brief when she’s sore.
We found our way back to the highway, and crossed with no issues. As we started walking up the road to the equestrian center, a car pulled onto the road with two little girls inside. They obviously wanted to see the horse, so their dad stopped the car, I stopped the horse, and they just watched her for a minute. Sofie stood well (though obviously wondering why we were just standing there). They thanked me and drove off, and Sofie and I continued on our way back to the barn. She ignored a barking Cocker Spaniel that ran across the yard toward us (it wouldn’t come within twenty feet of us, though).
When I got back to the barn driveway, I dismounted. My ass was tired, Sofie was tired and I figured I’d walk her the rest of the way. While my “light trail ride” was still a long ride by our standards, it was mostly straight line walk work, so I felt I succeeded in my plan. I also quit when we got back, rather than doing “just a couple trot transitions” and getting sucked into another dressage session.
Sofie had an appointment with Anne, our trimmer, so I rode again the next day. I didn’t have a whole lot of time, so I hacked over to the valley. Sofie was pretty willing, but she did resist going down the semi-steep hill that leads to the valley. Once there, we did a little dressage work, and she was heavy and running on her forehand at first, but willing to move forward. After a few firm half halts, she figured it out and I got some nicely balanced turns out of her. She stayed fairly straight throughout and was nice and willing. I did only one brief canter (she kicked up a little behind but her canter was quite nice) and quit shortly thereafter, happy with her cooperation. We then went on a very short hack before riding back to the barn to meet Anne.
Anne was awesome, as usual, and Sofie’s feet look great! Anne was particularly happy with her frogs, which are more robust than ever since the move. But, she thought Sofie was too fat (she almost always says that) and actually thought she had gained weight since she’d last seen her! I disagree, but I’m not too worried about it. Sofie is in no way obese, and her diet is very reasonable. And reducing the intensity of our rides is definitely a must, as Sofie was clearly uncomfortable and having trouble holding up her back legs. I am very grateful that we have a trimmer who understands Sofie’s issues and is never abusive to her, even when she’s not totally cooperative. It means a lot to me that she is kind to Sofie.
Sofie's left front, side view.
Sofie and Anne.
And finally, I just want to say that I am grateful for the luck we have, and our time together. We may have our struggles, limitations and worries, but in light of Gogo's pending euthanasia (it may have already happened as I write this) I know I am so fortunate to still be able to ride and spend time with the mare I love. I feel for Andrea in this time, and I sincerely hope she will be able to move forward and continue to inspire and educate us, because we love reading her blog. Gogo was lucky to have such a dedicated horsewoman. It breaks my heart that after all her careful management, and everything she did to help her horse, it didn't work out in the end. I don't know why things happen the way they do, but the best we can do is move forward and try to live (and love) as fully as we can. The lesson I took away from this is to make sure and love my horse, and be kind to her always, because I am lucky to have her. I want to make sure and earn that privilege, from now on.
I am so sorry, Andrea. But I thank you for that lesson.