Monday, September 10, 2012

Back to Business

Wow, I can't believe it's been nearly two months since I last checked in here!  Between my frustration with Starbuck's lameness and injuries (more on that in a minute), my determination to spend every waking moment at the stable once she was better and my husband giving me a Kindle as an anniversary gift, I think I've cracked open my laptop maybe 5 times in all that time.  Anyhow I'm back and though I imagine I'll be a little more sporadic in my updates than before I owe it to myself and to Starbuck to keep up our journal.  So here's a brief re-cap of what we've been up to.

After several weeks of on-again off-again lameness, Starbuck finally seemed to be somewhat recovered so one fine day I tacked her up and took her out to the arena to longe her with her saddle and bridle on in hopes of riding her that day or the next.  After a few minutes of longeing I could see that she was moving really well and I brought her in to the middle of the circle for a rest and a head rub.  So she was standing there resting, then she put her head down to rub her leg with her muzzle, then she stepped in a loop of the longe line and before I could get her foot out of the loop something happened to majorly spook her (who knows what), her head went up and away she ran.  Since her leg was caught in the line I had to let her go and pray for the best, but the arena gate was open and she ended up running all the way to her paddock, where I found her grazing nervously.  But when I checked her out I saw that at some point the bit had gotten pulled against her cheek, giving her a nasty cut about an inch from the bars of her mouth.  And when I opened her mouth to take her bridle off I saw that the bit had also ripped nearly halfway through her tongue.

I can't even begin to tell you how bad I felt.  Here I have this creature who I'm trying to build up a foundation of trust with and the very equipment I'm using not only brings discomfort and pain, but actual injury.  I felt like I wasn't worthy of the responsability of even having a horse, not to mention training one.  I wrapped my arms around her neck and sobbed my apologies into her mane.  I came back to reality when she started nuzzling my pockets looking for cookies and realized that as serious as the problem was, she seemed to be holding it together better than I was.  So I wiped my face and called the vet, who calmed me down by telling me it wasn't an uncommon injury or even a particularly serious one and that the mouth heals much more quickly than other parts of the body, then prescribed a change in diet (no grain or anything with small particles which could get stuck in the wound) and daily rinses with medicated mouthwash until the wound closed.

So Starbuck was on soaked pellet food, straight up straw without any seed heads, alfalfa and bran mashes and had the best-smelling breath at the stable for a month (the vet was right, she healed up way faster than I expected).  She also got a good two weeks more of rest before I even tried to longe her again, so I spent lots of time grooming her and taking lessons on some of Marina's horses.  Finally, I got rid of the bit in lieu of a hackamore and worked her from the ground for about a week before saddling her up and seeing whether she would let me ride her for the first time in two months.  And guess what?  It took a few minutes to review the basic cues and aids and I could definitely tell that she'd lost some conditioning, but she didn't act up at all and even seemed to be happy to have me riding her again.  I honestly think she missed having a routine and being able to work off some steam without having to go into panic mode to do so.

Anyhow about two weeks have gone by since that first ride and I'm starting to think that Starbuck made some kind of seminal change over her "summer vacation".  She's calmer, more focused, more relaxed and overall tends to behave like a total professional both on the ground and under saddle.  Since we've been back on track, we've ridden in the wind and rain, started working trotting poles into almost every class, habitually ride on the scary side of the arena, are starting some lateral work (leg yielding along the arena wall) and have even gotten to canter (on purpose) a couple of times.  We've only had one "electrical" day brought on by some sudden chilly and windy weather, but even then her spooks were highly controllable and I was more worried about her posture (that head kept going up) than me falling off.  I know we'll still have our bad moments, but I think we've scaled another plateau - one where I feel safe riding her no matter what the weather or her mood is like and where we can work on figuring out a training routine which is enjoyable and productive for both of us.

So here's to giving your horse (and yourself) a break every now and then, to bitless bridles and to more conscious groundwork.  And maybe to writing just a little more often.

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