So I spent the winter being a bum, at least in the minds of the horsey types. For the first winter ever in over 30 years I didn’t really ride. I didn’t feel the urge nor the necessity in torturing myself. My middle aged body didn’t want to be cold.
Now you could understand someone not wanting to be cold, except for one thing. When I did go to the barn to visit, I wasn’t cold. It was just the IDEA of being cold was such a turnoff that I decided to hibernate indoors, except during my brief barn visits. Never before have I stopped riding for the winter. EVER. Truth be told, it was kinda nice. Hubbie was happy. Work at home got done.
My horse seems to have thrived with the time off. His body is 100% and he looks gorgeous despite being in his mid teens now. Seems like just yesterday he was a butthole ex racehorse! But he’s nice and round, coming off the winter exceptionally well at this newish barn. He was able to spend daytime out in his semi-private field of grass. Nice healthy tall grass. I’m not exactly sure how big his field is. Maybe five acres, maybe 7? It’s just a big plop of land which is ideally placed behind the barn owners house but most importantly it allows for him to run, and run, and then run some more.
I spoke to the barn owner yesterday and she delighted in tales of her dog, a large Belgian Melanois and my horse playing chase with each other despite the stout fence which separates them. Apparently it’s a daily joy for them both, a surprise to hear as when I first got my horse in 1999 he absolutely abhorred dogs and would tried to hoof their faces at any given opportunity.
My horse shares this large pasture with his buddy, an aged horse belonging to a friend of mine. The other horse plays with mine, but soon tires, and so my horse uses the dog and horses in an adjacent field to get his play on. So physically, emotionally and mentally there’s been plenty to engage his mind during my cave dwelling winter days.
As soon as I smelled the first warmth in mid February I had the barnboyguy begin to lunge my horse twice a week, just to get my horse used to moving under human command again. We did this for three weeks and then I began to incorporate riding again. I chose the perfect day to have that first ride. Conditions were ideal to a good experience for both horse and I.
The barn was quiet and the temps were warm. My girlfriend was riding her horse, my horse’s pasture buddy in the arena as well, so everyone was nice and relaxed.
I didn’t expect to do very much with my horse and just wanted the first ride to be a calm, happy experience. I worked him at first a long time in the walk and kept his very active “go-ee” brain occupied with cavaletti, shoulder in, haunches in. I did some walk/trot/walk transitions and then let him settle in a nice training level type long reined trot. Canter went smooth as silk, relatively speaking and our canter/walk transitions took a little time to warm up to (which was perfectly alright) but soon were dead on.
I don’t like to canter my horse ad nauseum, and I much prefer doing transitions in and out of the gait. Basically, I do because my horse tends to load the front end too much and since he is far from sure footed, often he’ll trip with a too long rein. The transitions help to pick up that front end without having to shorten the rein too much and it is also so much easier on my middle aged body.
We ended the ride on a good note, with great success. Afterwards my girlfriend commented saying it was as if we had been riding all along. I figure it doesn’t get any better than that!
Our subsequent rides went likewise. First rides after a few days off were all about bending, shoulder in, haunches in, and a little half-pass tossed it when it felt right to.
My most recent ride found me riding the absolute most perfect half pass left we’d ever done. I was ecstatic and jumped off him and loved on him tons. What a good boy!!! I quit the ride then, and after caring for him and putting him away went to call a friend to talk of the perfect half pass. But she didn’t answer. I spent the rest of the day trying to call friends to speak of the perfect half pass but no one was around!! Another day passed, and still I was unable to communicate the perfect half pass to anyone. When the perfect half pass comes and no one is there to see it, have you really half passed at all?
Part of me can’t believe it’s gone so well so far. The bug to ride is back inside my belly and it feels good to have it again. And although my house and garden show the result of my time away from riding (yes my lawn and garden are ready for planting) it does feel good to greet sweet spring once again and look forward to a glorious warm weather season.
I hope your rides go as well, and urge you to remember that the power to have the best rides lies within you.
It’s so much easier when you AND the horse just want to.