Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Trail Training Newsletter - #84 - part 1

Trail Training Newsletter – Volume 83
January 2008

Dear Readers,

Bad news this month. Early in December, Cruiser came up lame on his bad leg during a trail ride. My heart fell. Common sense said that it had to be the tendon. We walked him back to the barn, iced, wrapped and started him on bute for the swelling. I called the vet out. He gave him a lameness exam and an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed some thickening in the tendon, but no lesions, so that was good.

He will be on stall rest for a couple more weeks, and then I can start some light riding—gradually building him back up. He is allowed 10 minutes a day of hand walking. That is for his mental state. The lameness is already gone. There is just a little heat left.

The vet said that this isn’t unusual. We bring them along slowly, everything is going well and then there will be a setback.

I guess if this was going to happen, I’m glad it happened now. We had a terrific fall riding season. Winter isn’t near as much fun to ride—particularly once the river freezes. We’ll be ready by spring.

Just a reminder—if you received a gift card for Borders over the holiday, you can use it to buy my books. Treat yourself!


The Journey

It was about this time of year, eighteen years ago, that my first horse, Brandy, died. Seeing the trees barren of their leaves, brings back the memories and makes me very thoughtful.

Enough time has gone by that I no longer think as much about the end of his life. For those of you who have read my book “Trail Training for the Horse and Rider,” the last chapter does talk about the feelings I went through at the time. Losing a horse is never an easy thing, but it was a case of being “better to have loved and lost, than never loved at all.”

These days, I think more about the short two and a half years we had together. I had some experience with horses before he was given to me, but really not that much. A lot of that experience was with him—that’s why I took him. He was the horse I grew up with—in a sense. I may have only seen him a few times a year, but he was the horse I always thought of as the most important horse in the world.

He was owned my aunt, and in time, she no longer had much use for him and gave him to me. I knew that he had his problems, but I was twenty-one at the time. I figured I could do anything. How naïve we are at that age.

I brought him to a boarding stables that was only a half mile from the trails. After all, trail riding was my passion—even back then—I was hooked. It was early February when I got him. The following weekend, a group of riders were going down to the trail. I decided to go with them to find out how to get there—and anyway—this was my dream. Why wait?

I remember the day was cold and snowy. Silly me. These days, I would never take a brand new horse out on the trail on such a day. Cold weather can make the best horse act silly. Silly he was. As the group of riders were walking down the trail, he was trotting and prancing. He insisted on being in the lead. Did I mention he had a hard mouth and a tendency to run away? After about 15 minutes of this, I turned around and went home. He trotted and pranced the whole way. Needless to say, I was very upset.

A few weeks later, when the weather was better, I tried it a few more times on my own without much success. One day, when it was warmer, he did pretty well, and I was so happy. The next ride, he was terrible. In the spot that the trail bent towards the woods, he decided to bend the other way, turned around and ran to the street. He galloped down the middle of the road. Years later, I can still see the yellow line under our feet. Fortunately, there wasn’t any traffic. I somehow got him to the side of the road, slowed him to a stop, dismounted and led him home—in tears.

I dreamt for years that I would someday have a trail horse, and instead I had a horse that was just too much for me. I called my aunt—she said I could sell him. Well, I wasn’t ready for that. I was able to ride him fine in the arena. I simply gave up on trail riding altogether. Someday, I would have a different horse and I would be able to live my dream. Now, I just needed to learn how to ride better and build my very shaken confidence.

Having a horse is pretty expensive, and in those days, I didn’t have very much money. I didn’t see how I could afford both a horse and riding lessons, so I had to figure this out by myself. I did listen, read and learn as much as I could. I practiced, rode at least four times a week and rationalized to myself that I someday could have a trail horse. I just had to wait. I waited this long, I could wait some more. I simply was to frightened to go out on the trail. My confidence was zero.

Good thing Brandy was a fine arena horse. He wasn’t necessarily an easy horse, but he was safe. There was no bucking, bolting or rearing. There was just disagreements as to where we were going to go and how fast we were going to do it. My riding became more confident. I could even ride bareback! I even cantered bareback! I could even mount from the ground bareback! I’m afraid those days are long gone. I tried it a few years ago with Cruiser, and I just couldn’t do it and had to use a mounting block.

Something happened that following winter. Boredom overcame the fear. I’m sure that could only happen because my growing confidence caused my fear to shrink. It was about February when I was so fed up with the arena that I had to get out! I couldn’t wait for the weather to get a little better. I needed to escape desperately. I had to try. After all, I was 22 and I could do anything. Couldn’t I?

Things had changed. My horse was no longer my adversary—he was my friend. As two friends, we were going to work our problems out. By now, he trusted me. I was no longer the strange person that took him away from his home of many years, brought him to a scary place and expected him to go on new trails filled with monsters. I was his trusty leader, and he was my trusty horse. Both of our attitudes had changed dramatically. He couldn’t trust me when I had no confidence. Now, things were different.

Our very first trail ride was so much better than all the rides the year before. I remember I got off and led him all the way home. That last half mile up the road was the toughest part. He pranced and tried to trot the whole way. I very, very firmly held onto the reins and insisted he walked. After fighting all the way up the very steep hill that lead to the barn, he exhausted himself. He never gave me trouble walking up that hill the rest of his life.

Each ride, we did a little more. Before I knew it, I was riding home. I told myself, “As long as I’m able to walk in the park, I’ll be happy.” That is, until I decided to try to trot. all worked well. I then told myself, “A long as I’m able to walk and trot in the park, I’ll be happy.” One day, I got brave and asked him to canter. He cantered, and I was able to stop him when I wanted to! Soon, I was even able to trot towards home. I even cantered towards home, now and then—but only when we were far away. my hard-mouthed, runaway horse was now a sane, dependable horse.

I rode him on the trail all that summer and fall. We were a team, and those who have experienced that feeling know how special it is. January 1, he came down with a case of laminitis. It was devastating, but we got it under control, and by summer, we were back out on the trail. The fun didn’t stop until November when he colicked and died at the age of 24.

It was a tragic time for me, but through that two and a half years, I learned so much. I found out about a 2-year-old Morab, and less than two weeks later, he was mine. I was setting myself up for a whole bunch of challenges, but I was 24. I could do anything. Brandy proved it to me. I still didn’t have much money, so I did the training myself with the help of a few good books. We just progressed from one step to the next. When the books couldn’t help—I wrote my own.

Sure, I had some tough time and had some scary times with Cruiser. He had a lot of energy, but I was already used to that from Brandy. Cruiser’s biggest problem was his terrible spooks, but I never gave up. Instead, I learned how to handle them. By the time he was just four, he was already an awesome trail horse. My next big challenge—raising a baby horse from birth. That’s where my Mingo came in. By now, it was easy.

Now, that I’m older, (Cruiser, too, he’s twenty,) I know I can’t do everything, but I do know that I can do most anything if I break it down into little bits. If my horse gets confused or I get nervous about something, we step back in our training until we are ready to move forward again. Soon, we will be ready to continue our journey once again.

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