Mr T is transforming. He arrived almost a month ago, and after Cowboy worked him once or twice, I pretty much took over the work with him. He has taught me a lot about my own skills in groundwork.
The first thing that has changed in him is his general appearance. When he arrived, his back bone was visible as well as palpable, his winter coat was still lodged in place, and his muscle mass was very atrophied. I weight taped him at under 900lbs, which is far beneath where a horse of his size and build should be. Here’s a reminder:
I spent hours brushing him to pull out the old hair, and scrubbing out the dead skin. He helped me with the process by digging out a spot to roll in the field, and for a while the dirt was just white with hair. Cowboy trimmed his feet, which helped him to bear his weight more comfortably. He has spent his time out in the pastures on the good spring grass, and I worked with him on the lunge line to start rebuilding his fitness. Part of the problem was engaging his brain. He had spent so long by himself in a field with nothing to do that he had mentally checked out. He paid almost no attention to me. His eyes had a far away look to them.
For a little while, I wondered what I was doing and whether it was making any difference.
Well, it was, despite my doubts. I weight taped him again at the weekend and he has put on around 100lbs. He has shed all but a few hairs of his winter coat, at last. His spine is no longer sticking up, and his hind muscles are starting to fill out. I can still see his hip bones in a way that I would prefer not to, but his ribs are well covered, and part of the hip bone issue is his lack of muscle. His back has started to lift – thank goodness! I felt ok about putting a saddle on him this weekend, as he finally has some meat to support it.
Check him out!
Our work has improved as he is beginning to pay better attention. He started out by turning into the fence in the round pen, blithely ignoring the fact that turning that way is pretty rude and disrespectful to me. He now volunteers the inside turn, even when he has set himself up to turn incorrectly, and he self-corrects if I give him just a moment to work it through. He is facing up more reliably, where he used to guard one side of his body. It seems that he has learned my hand signals, and is starting to learn my voice cues too. He gives me just a little more personal space than he used to.
Occasionally, when he gets tired, it all goes to shit and he forgets everything, but when a week ago he would have checked out and lost it all, he can now pick it back up again and get back to work. There are a few stumbling blocks still – yielding his shoulder when I stand on his right is a sticky point, and he has a tendency to just back up when he doesn’t have the right answer, without looking for any other options.
The good thing about his stumbling blocks is that they push me to learn how to help him be set up to succeed. His outside turn tendency was fixed by me insisting on him yielding his hips away and facing up way before I ever asked him to step over with his front. If he wasn’t set up just right for that inside turn to be the easy way to go, I had screwed him over already. My timing had to be just so to reward him when his steps were right. I had to learn how much rest to give him for him to soak on what we just did. I had to keep my cool while he backed up and backed up against a particular pressure, and help him figure out that it wasn’t the answer.
I also had to learn how to push him just enough. Early on, I didn’t want to overstrain him, and he worked up a mild to moderate sweat. Now that he is stronger, I am looking for a more thorough sweat. His cardiovascular capacity still needs to come up. Some of the sweat comes from his mental efforts as well as his physical exertions, and I need him to be able to keep his brain working even when he is tired. Really, the only way to train that is to do it.
Yesterday, his head finally came down. As we rested in the middle of the round pen, and I let him catch his breath, I found his head down beside me where I could rub and love on him with ease. He sighed. I was so thrilled to see him let go of the tension at the base of his neck and just be with me, rather than standing with his head high and his ears and eyes fixed somewhere else. He is beginning to be more mindful of where I am in his space, and to be more responsive about making way for me. He really is trying.
I see myself in his journey in so many ways – coming to a new life and needing to adapt to meet the demands I’m now facing. Needing to get back in shape – through sweat and frustration and the occasional bit of persuasion from somebody else. Keeping my head and not letting go of all reason, even when exhausted and feeling like there’s no reason to be had. Wanting to back out of things sometimes, but making the decision to find a better way to move forwards and deal with the pressures of life. Just as I woke up this morning after the gym yesterday feeling stiff and sore, he probably feels the same way today.
I gave him a nice cool bath after our more intense workout on Saturday, and scrubbed out some of the baked in dirt. He gleamed for all of about thirty seconds, after which he did this:
One of our boarders commented that it was a shame, after all of that washing and how clean he was. All I could think, while I smiled and shook my head at her, was how pleased I was to see that he was fit, happy and healthy enough to roll as vigorously and joyously as he did. He had earned the simple pleasure of it.
Happy horse = happy Bee.