Thursday, June 7, 2012

Riding Ellie

Ellie. (The iPhone doesn't do her justice.)
When we arrived at the barn last night, the hot day had given way to a breezy, comfortable evening. I had planned to get to know Ellie, the tall, 16-year-old gray Thoroughbred who was new to the barn. My sister-in-law had owned her a few years ago, and said the mare had done everything from eventing to trail riding. Now, several months after a well-placed kick caused a shoulder injury, Ellie was back at my sister-in-law's barn. I'd peeked in on her a few times in that first week, offering her a cookie or a carrot, but hadn't done much beyond that.

Tonight, I pulled Ellie out of her stall, and put her in cross ties. I'll just start with grooming, I told myself, figuring that I didn't have to ride if the mare was acting grumpy or jumpy. Not exactly a bold jump forward on my part, but I've always loved grooming horses, and it feels like a handshake to me. Hopping on a horse without going through the grooming ritual first seems a little impolite.

As I used a rubber curry over her neck and across her chest, I noticed her chest muscles seemed weak and undefined, and her belly a little round. "OK. We both need to get in shape," I said to her with complete understanding. She lifted her head and wiggled her lips as I curried an itchy spot, and I smiled, then worked my way along the side of her neck, rubbed her withers and back, then over her hindquarter and under her belly. Flea-bitten grays have red specks over a field of white, like freckles. From a distance, she looks gray, but close up she's a confetti pattern of color, like a paint-speckled canvas.

She had a few manure stains in back. I wondered how she'd react to bathing and made a mental note to ask my sister-in-law. Then I had a flash of insight: When I was riding a lot, I'd have just planned to bathe her without worrying about how she'd behave. If she acted jumpy, I'd have dealt with it. Nowadays, I do too much worrying up front, causing me to waver instead of stepping up confidently. The thing is, I think that's a snapshot of my nature in general. Hm. I'll have to put that thought under the microscope later.

Funny how horses can help you see yourself more clearly.

After working across both sides with a curry, stiff brush, and soft brush, I picked out her feet, brushed her mane and tail, and doctored up a small graze across her hock. I patted her and smoothed her coat, then felt a little silly as I said to her, "All right, Miss Ellie, I need a little confidence."

As I finished up, V, the barn's trainer, stopped by to let me know that Ellie seemed a little off on her right front, and that she was concerned that the shoulder injury may have caused some nerve damage that hadn't been obvious at first. My heart sunk a little bit. Shoulder injuries can be problematic and nerve damage isn't unusual. It could lead her to stumble, and I wondered how permanent the injury was. V said it would be great if I could walk her for exercise, but she probably shouldn't do much beyond that. She's got great gaits, V said, but she's a little lazy.

I felt some muscles in my shoulders relax just the tiniest bit.

Perfect, I thought. Because walking was just about my speed and lazy was what I wanted. It looked like we were both in rehab mode, with some healing to do. I tacked her up, and headed down to the arena to climb on. She's a tall mare. I'm short and not as flexible as I used to be. My husband saw me standing around hemming and hawing and looking for the mounting block, then came over and gave me a leg up, chivalrous sort that he is. He commented on what a nice mare she is, then went back to helping L get Butters ready for a ride. I adjusted my stirrups, and settled myself before asking her to walk out.

I fiddled around with her for awhile, getting the feel of just sitting in a saddle, remembering. Inside leg, move her over to the rail. Relax your back, use your seat bones, heels down. I felt myself take a deep, easy breath. She responded to my leg, and she felt light on the bit. A couple of horses were tearing around in the neighboring pasture and I tensed as we walked by. She noticed them, but didn't seem inclined to toss me off and go join in their fun. I relaxed a little more. In fact, I got a little bored, which is something I haven't felt on horseback for a long time.

After about 30 minutes where I just gave my body time to remember, making big figure eights, doing the slightest bit of lateral work from the center of the arena to the rail, I halted her, hopped down, and walked her back up to the barn. She stood quietly while I pulled her saddle and took off her bridle. I brushed her down lightly--she hadn't exactly broken a sweat--then gave her a cookie and a pat before putting her back in her stall. She was very ladylike until the door was closed, then she turned, hurried out into the long run, and tore off bucking and kicking.Well, I thought, at least she feels good.

And so, I realized, did I.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad that you are sticking to your goal of riding!