Coming back to work with inciDENTAL horseplay

It’s a great feeling to hop aboard a favorite horse, particularly after a multi-month lay-up. This time, the lay-up was for me, as I recovered from a (non-horse-related) trail run injury. (Here's that story.) But we’re coming back. Today, I enjoyed my second ride, which was nice. 

But there was one little snag.

It’s been a little nippy outside lately, but today was a lovely and unseasonably warm day for February in the Upper Midwest. It was the perfect day for a jaunt in the outdoor arena. (We actually had a very brief ride, as the mare and I both need some midwinter conditioning. But we did OK, while we were at it.)

The mare is a delight. She is sweet and generally gentle (OK, lazy). She’ll give some get-up-and-go, but I usually have to ask for it. (OK, I have to ASK for it.) She puts up with grooming and clipping. She stands for the vet and farrier like a pro. And she takes worming paste like a champ.

But she hates the girth. Cinching up (even gently and gradually) brings out the beast in her.

Can you find it?
We got through all that today without mishap. We strolled out of the barn, down the lane, and into the outdoor arena. I led her in-hand for a quiet lap around the fence line before approaching the mounting block.

Then it happened.

I looped the reins over her head and tugged a little on the saddle to check it before climbing aboard.

Snap. And ouch.

Now I have a rather sore temporary tattoo, shaped like an equine dental impression, in one arm.

The Bible talks about the “wounds of a friend.”  I’m pretty sure that’s not what that means.

“Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6, NLT)

I should have known better, even with this trusted (and usually trustworthy) horsey friend. And I’m still going back tomorrow for more. It's a fair bet the mare will have horse kisses, rather than bites, next time. Especially if I give her a carrot to chew on, instead of me.

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Treasuring a mini-magic horsey moment

Small victories can sometimes be the most special ones.

I enjoyed a special surprise today with our mare. Actually, she’s my daughter’s horse, but my kid hasn’t had a lot of time for horses lately, so I’ve been enjoying this sweet horse mostly solo.

This horse is generally gentle and sensible. OK, most of the time. On the other hand, since I’ve been sidelined with an injury for a couple of months, the horse hasn’t seen much work.

It would be fair to say she is a little rank these days. But she will come along, as we settle back into a working routine. We were doing pretty well before my (non-horse-related) accident and injury.

Today was a small win, but it was sweet.

This mare was mostly idle for several years. Then my daughter was asked to work with her, just a couple of years ago. She schooled her and eventually began showing her. And they did well. She even ended up buying the horse.

Still, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say this horse hasn’t had a lot of groundwork. Plus, it can take time to build a special relationship with a horse that belongs to someone else. I didn’t even ride this horse for the first year my daughter had her. A few months ago, when she grew busy with young adult life and sort of stepped away from horses for a while, I began working with the mare.

It sort of felt like I was hanging around with my kid’s best friend or something. In time, we got over that. We’ve grown pretty fond of one another, I think.

That makes today’s tiny incident more noteworthy.

This horse is wonderful to ride, indoors or out. But she’s never liked the dark, rattly, and somewhat cluttered area by the far end of the indoor arena. (You know. It’s the place from which equine-eating shadows jump out to eat horses. OK, they’re barn cats. What’s the difference?)

Today, we did some liberty ground play. The horse free-lunges (without a whip), changing directions on hand/arm signals. Most of the time.  So we did some of that.

After a while, I let her rest. I lumbered way down the arena towards the scary place, seemingly ignoring the mare and tinkering with my phone. (Yes, I admit it. I was answering a text message.) Soon, I was leaning on the arena gate, right by the big shaky door.

Within a few minutes, she crept up behind me and nudged my shoulder.

If she could speak aloud, she might have said something like this:  “I’m still a little scared in this spot, but I’d rather come along and be with you.”

I stashed my phone and offered her a few soft scratches behind her ears and along her bridle path. (That’s sort of her favorite spot.)

Nope, we didn't master tempi changes, jump three feet, perform a piaffe, rope a steer, or break a speed record. But it was a magic moment, nonetheless. Especially relationally.

Small victories.

And I didn’t even have any treats with me today. Boy, do I love this mare.

Horse close-up photo by LAN for The Mane Point
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