There are times when despite all of my best efforts, something just gets in the way of riding. It’s called life, it happens to the best of us. Horses get boo boos, it gets too unbearably hot to ride, the list of reasons is endless.
And while I do a lot of talking about being consistent in working with our horses, there are times when life happens and we’re forced to take an unexpected break from riding.
Heat and boo boos were the latest causes of a more than two week hiatus in terms of Indy’s work schedule. Last Thursday when I took him out for the first time after a few weeks off, I honestly wasn’t sure which version of my horse I’d be taking out but I grabbed his halter and lead line and hoped for the best.
Would I get the stereotypical Thoroughbred thanks to the combination of cooler weather and pent up energy?
To my amazement and absolute delight I would not.
He was everything but a stereotypical Thoroughbred — lazy but attentive, enjoying some grooming and willing to stand around being tacked up. Under saddle we picked up exactly where we’d left off working towards a relaxed, long and low posture at all three gaits and introducing him to some games and obstacles.
In the game of horses, I’ve learned it’s always better to lower your expectations. If you can manage to do this, you’ll probably go about the majority of your work being slightly impressed.
While I had resigned myself to being content with starting a few steps behind the proverbial 8-ball thanks to our time off, Indy was determined to prove me wrong and demonstrate just how good his memory really can be. Without missing a beat we trotted the barrel pattern while he threw himself into each turn and each time I applied contact, he lowered his head and lifted his shoulder. When we revisited the gate obstacle, he stood next to it, walked through, and backed in a straight line.
It was as though we’d never missed a day.
While this could have lulled me into a false sense of security, I didn’t let it go to my head. I’ve taken enough spills for that exact reason — rushing a warmup, jumping into events and rides when we haven’t been in work on a horse that needs some consistency. Instead of going out on the trails Saturday morning with Indy in such inconsistent work, I opted to stay in the arena and work the boy and myself until we’d made some more progress. All it would take is a little time and patience and we’d be back on track again.
And it turned out to be a good thing I stayed behind in the arena solo. As another group of riders made their way out of the woods and back towards our large covered arena, I was on the ground free lunging Indy when I saw the meltdown start. I didn’t even see my friends until they were next to the arena and by then Indy’s brain had turned into one giant dark bay puddle as he ran circles around me, huffing and puffing with his tail straight up in the air.
After a few minutes of being totally freaked out by those horses that came out of absolutely nowhere and were clearly here to eat us, Indy was back to his usual calm and cool self and we continued with a good, long, workout under saddle focusing on transitions and the barrel pattern. Even with his temper tantrum, we were still miles ahead of where we once were in February doing our best impression of a horse kite and a stereotypical Thoroughbred baby.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised because after all, we’ve put in enough work over the past six months alone to have made some substantial progress.
But I’d prefer to continue being surprised for one simple reason — seeing how Indy handled a period of two weeks off and having him behave like a perfect gentleman was more rewarding than most things I do on the ground or under saddle with him. This was a true test of progress and a pure sign of growth, retention, and success with absolutely no filters. By all accounts and measurements, he should have been at his worst… but he wasn’t.
It may not have come with a ribbon or a new best time, but we’ve worked long and hard enough to have earned ourselves a break and the luxury of not sliding backwards in between.2