Thursday, August 30, 2012

Long Overdue Update

Almost two whole seasons have gone by and I haven’t updated the blog. It‘s sad that I haven‘t kept up on it, but priorities have to be made and some things don‘t quite make the cut. But Sofie is still very much alive and well, and things are going well for the two of us.
On the me front, I got my drivers license in May (after a year of practice, and many tears), and around the same time I got a job at the barn where I board Sofie, thus allowing me to work off my board, a very welcome financial boost. Aside from that, I love my job. I love the physicality of it, I love being around horses and feeling like I’m part of something. I also love that after a particularly grueling day I can walk around to the mare field and hug on Sofie for a while before I drive my hour commute back home to deal with my other responsibilities (and more hungry animals). Yes, it’s exhausting at times. But I’m so happy with how things have worked out. I’m really lucky.
As spring began we hit the trails as soon as possible. But while Sofie was very happy to get out and go down the trail, we overdid it on the first outing and she was hit with subsequent soreness. I feared the worst, but with a gradual introduction to the hills and harder footing she began to get stronger. Even though I rode her all winter, she was still in very “soft” condition and she was not fit for the demands of trail riding. Within a few weeks she strengthened, and her jiggly flab began to resemble actual muscle.
She experienced very little soreness over the summer, and we spent many afternoons trail riding, mainly solo outings, occasionally in company. I rediscovered a lovely trail I’d only ever been on once last fall, and I learned of a river trail that connects to Cathy’s land. Of course I had to try it, so on my birthday I went for it, bringing along a very intrepid re-rider on her young, green horse. The trail began with a very long, fairly steep descent (why I’d never explored it before) and once we got on the other property, the footing was fairly rocky but nothing that good rock crunchers couldn’t handle. Soon we came to the best river vista, and an unexpected challenge, a wooden bridge! I wanted to see if Sofie could do it, so I encouraged her and pushed her closer, but she got within a couple feet and wouldn’t go any further. I hopped off to see if I could lead her across, and she followed me immediately. She just didn’t want to be the one to test its sturdiness. I didn’t bother informing her that I weigh a fraction of her 900-some pounds, so the bridge failing to crack under my weight was hardly a guarantee, but it was touching nonetheless.
We returned to the river trail several times after that, and each time I was able to ride Sofie over the bridge with no problems. After the first few rides I started putting front boots on her, since she wasn’t totally comfortable on the rocks, and I had a pair of boots that I had never even used due to the lack of rocky trails. So I started using the boots on the river trail and on the road, and she loves them. All other times she is barefoot and her feet are looking better than ever. Even her tricky right hind, which used to slant wierdly, is looking like a normal foot.
We’ve enjoyed many trail rides over the summer. I can probably count the arena rides we’ve had since the snow melted on one hand. I do still enjoy dressage, but bits and pieces of training - usually on the way home from a trail ride - are enough for me. I like to stop in the valley after a trail outing, fitting in a ten-minute session - just long enough to accomplish something - before heading back to the barn.
I’m piecing together the fundamentals of dressage over time, acquiring the muscle memory to achieve an honest connection. Trotting on the trail, practicing transitions and bend, is where the concepts I’ve read over and over really seem to fall into place. It doesn’t seem to matter how often I am told to sit up when I ride, I never really “got” it until recently when I was working Sofie on a large circle, placed upon a slight slope. It’s a challenging exercise for her, and it really seems to help with her balance on hills and in general. I was riding her down the slope, half-halting and trying to help her keep her balance, when I started to hold myself up taller. As if by magic (really? Who knew my horse was actually affected by my weight distribution and posture?!) Sofie seemed to attain her balance so much easier. Now I think of sitting up as part of my aids (for a transition, or a bend, or whatever) and it’s becoming almost an automatic.
Riding bareback through woods and up hills. Learning to work a gate on horseback. Surviving exploding ruffed grouse and (horrors) deer. Crossing bridges (both the real, suspended-over-the-water kind and the fake, arena-trail-class kind, which proved way more challenging). Sticking a spook that took us all the way across the driveway. Making mistakes and learning from them. Always having another chance.
The barn is a wonderful place to be. Recently, after being drenched to the skin by a downpour as I fed the horses, I was driving the big water truck (I will always take any chance to drive the big water truck) when I saw a rainbow stretching across the horizon over the far horse pasture. Even though I haven’t achieved my goal of taking Sofie on an off-the-farm outing, I have to admit I’m incredibly lucky to be where I am.
I’ve made my mistakes with Sofie, and I struggle with that all the time. I struggle with the knowledge that I have invoked suffering in any living being, let alone one who means so much to me. But the fact that remains is that she is still there, beautiful, healthy, and able, still, to do so much. And when I go out to bring her in from the field, her head pops up when she sees me, sometimes from very far off, and she’ll watch me come in. When I draw near she’ll look up again, sometimes taking a step or two toward me, and she’ll sniff me and let me rub her neck, and occasionally there will be annoyance in her eyes, but mostly, now, there is contentment. She is happy, and I know she loves me, and in that moment I am able to admit that perhaps I have earned it.
On a ride last week, it started raining just as I headed out, but I declared that we were not riding in the arena for the second time in a row. Sofie was a pretty good sport, despite her strong desire to keep her face rain-free. On our way home, I let her trot, and she moved into overdrive. I held her back until we got to the final hill, and she charged up it at a strong canter. I was up in two-point, following her motion, with wet reins and a lock of her mane in my hand, looking up through raindrops at the trail home. Somehow it was magical, and I was an eventer on the Rolex course in that moment, exhilarated.
I love my mare.
Conformation update. Please avert your eyes from the excess fat...
THE FEET! This is what I am most excited about. Photo taken four weeks out from a trim. LOVE. IT.