Five years

Five years ago today, I signed the check that started a new era. I can’t put into words the many ways in which owning this horse has changed my life. We’ve made and lost friends, switched disciplines, been at 5 different barns, learned how to drive a trailer, gotten the hookup with a great vet…it hasn’t been easy and was objectively a poor decision financially, but my life is so much more worth living.

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First ride as officially mine

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Thinking about doing something naughty, probably

No celebration is complete without $6 sparkling alcoholic beverage

No celebration is complete without $6 sparkling alcoholic beverage

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Enjoying the first of many buckets o' noms

Enjoying the first of many buckets o’ noms

We haven’t really been up to much lately. We’ll have some great rides, and then weather/work/whatever will interfere, and we’ll be back to the drawing board of “no please you need to slow down.”

It’s kind of a bummer. Neither of us are getting younger, and every fall I go through the motions of “maybe if we work really hard over the winter, we can show in the spring…” But how realistic is that? I haven’t taken a lesson on her in months, I can’t afford to move her to an indoor this winter, she’s not really sound… so we just hack around and dream of better days.

Whatever we’re doing seems to agree with her, though. As soon as she went out on grass this spring she bloomed. At age 18, she actually has some semblance of a topline for the first time in her life.

Top is 2013, bottom is last month

Top is 2013, bottom is last month

Fittingly, today I submitted the last of my materials for applying to vet school. I’ve been saying “I want to go to vet school” for the last, oh, twenty years, but it’s time to actually get on with my life and Do The Thing. Of course, everyone and their mom (mostly the moms) has a “oh yeah, my friend’s nephew’s girlfriend took 652453784 tries to get into vet school” story, so I’m bracing myself for disappointment. But the process was so tied up in emotion and drama for various reasons, that no matter what happens I’ll just have to be proud of myself for taking this step. Everyone just keep your fingers crossed I get in somewhere, anywhere, and then you won’t have to hear me bellyaching about it for another year 🙂

Happy half-a-decade, mare. I’m just trying to make you proud.

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Some track thoughts

Sometimes, I get comments from people* that make me feel like I should get my Horse Person Card revoked for not being anti racing.

*people = largely on the internet

Let me be clear– there are things I don’t like about the racing industry. I wish they weren’t started as babies…. which happens because there is so much emphasis on races for 2 and 3 year olds. On the flip side, I wish there was more of a trend to keep the good ones racing longer, so they can prove they can stay sound past 3 before they go on to make more of themselves. I wish they had turnout. I wish the unsuccessful ones didn’t have to keep on racing because their trainers don’t know what else to do with them, and if you’re interested in donating to/volunteering for/attending an event that caters to that issue, click here.

But there are many, many good people involved with racing, and I enjoy going to the track and connecting with them, and looking at the horses and imagining their stories.

Back in 2o14, I reached out to the trainers of a horse closely related to a horse I adored. I told them I was interested in him if he wasn’t successful on the track. They invited me to watch him run at Arlington and come meet him after the race.

Class act

Class act

I’ve since learned the hard way that I can’t afford a second horse anytime soon. The horse in question has since been claimed again and again, and actually remains fairly successful now in his 6-year-old year. But I’ve stayed in touch with his old owner and trainer through the wonders of facebook, and when his owner told me they had a horse running in the 7th at Arlington yesterday, I was like hell yeah I’m coming to watch.

I saw his trainer in the paddock and she ran up to me and gave me a hug, and said “did you see your buddy is still running? I wish he could just have a good home with you.” Their horse ran fourth, failing to hit the board and earn me anything back on my $2 bet 😛 But he was lovely in person, and I was pleased to see when I looked him up that he’s Irish bred, because who doesn’t love a dapple grey Irish TB?

Mmmm dapples

Mmmm dapples

His face reminds me of a friend's eventer

His face reminds me of a friend’s eventer

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Close but no cigar


Since I was there, I stuck around to watch a couple races. I didn’t bet, but my time tested strategy of “go for the chunky dark bay with chrome” meant I picked the winner in two of three races.


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Not fancy and uphill, but he had presence.

I was completely awestruck by a horse (apparently he’s a horse-horse, as in an ungelded 3-year-old) in the last race of the day. I will freely admit that I am blinded by dark bay with chrome (see above betting strategy). But he walked into the paddock and just owned it.

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Calmly was saddled and walked to the post.

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Showed off his fluid and supple trot in the warmup (seriously, I wish I had taken a video of him)

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Came from behind and won by 3/4 of a length

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Cantered home quietly (again, wish I had taken a video)

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Stood to be unsaddled, with just enough sass and “yeah, did you see me do that?” to keep things interesting

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Stood in the winner’s circle

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And pranced his way home.

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And then the coolest thing happened. I posted a picture of him to my instagram, as I often do because I need validation from strangers on the internet and also I am so broke and maybe I will magically get hired as a photographer somewhere. And then I saw I had a comment, from his groom? exercise rider?, who I guess we were mutual followers but never really talked. She told me it was a good picture, and he is a lovely horse to handle even being a 3-year-old colt. And I told her he was one classy horse and congratulated her on the win, and then checked out her profile cuz I am a creep like that, and saw that her most recent posts were full of pictures of him, selfies with him, his journey to Arlington, him hand grazing during our cold snap. And I realized– each of these horses has a team behind them. They have real live people who know them and love them and know their quirks and take pictures of them so they can carry them around on their cell phones and look at anytime. They think about how they’re doing now, and when they start winding down, they probably think about what comes next.

And that’s why us sporthorse people need to not be so quick to judge racing folk. There are many different facets of the horse industry, and trust me I’m a vet tech, there are ugly aspects of all of them. But the important part is that we’re all in it for the horses, and we need to keep making these connections so these horses are ensured careers after the track.

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Wrap Up

Pearl returns back to Not So Broken Pony Land this Friday, so I guess it’s time for an update/wrap-up on how our winter of Real Work went.

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Spoiler alert: we’re not magically ready to hit the show ring at Second Level. But I didn’t expect us to be. My goal was basically to have her regularly walk, trot, canter, and maybe start looking a little more civilized, and we more than accomplished that.

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I probably drove Christy crazy by not having any specific lesson goals other than “I dunno, ride better.” But we played around with little pieces of first level and some basic patterns. Leg yields: kinda functional, still have a hard time keeping her straight and not popping her shoulder out.

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Shoulder in: fairly decent at the walk, work in progress at the trot. Haunches in: pretty ugly, but sort of getting a response. Counter canter: “omg you dumb human that’s the wrong lead,” but willing to figure out what I want. Halts: Pearl’s least favorite gait… definitely taking advantage of her anticipatory brain and letting her figure out that centerline = stop for a second.

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Canter: will occasionally slow down to a three-beat gait that involves being aware we have back legs.

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We (gasp) found a bit she will go in! It’s a pelham, so not show legal, but since we’re not hitting the show ring anytime soon I don’t really care. I mostly stay off the curb rein, but am having a killer time finding a baucher version. If anyone can find a happy mouth (knockoff) mullen mouth baucher IN A SIZE SIX holla at your girl.

The quality and consistency of her gaits and contact have definitely improved. She still moves like a creaky old lady. She still will alternate between giraffing and ducking under the bit. But she is willing to maintain an honest contact and bend and flex both ways, which is an improvement over where we started from.

Pearl turned 18 on the 19th of this month. I caved and let her do her favorite thing, JUMPING. I’ll always be disappointed that we were never able to return to serious work over fences, but even in the few little lines we jumped I can tell the improvement the dressage work has made to her pace control and willingness to wait instead of just going fast and flat.

It has been a challenge for me going from “do whatever I want in somebody’s backyard” to a traditional boarding barn where I have to (omg the horror) share space and follow rules. Sharing the indoor was a challenge at times, but better than no indoor at all. We had a really rough time when the horses were inside for a couple weeks straight while the grass grew in, and then in on Sundays because of a barn staff change. We had a lot of rides that were more like human lunge line/just don’t fall off than actual productive training, but again better than not riding at all.

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Why turnout is non negotiable

If I decide to snowbird again next winter, I will definitely be looking at barns with more workable all weather turnout arrangements.

Of course, not everything can be sunshine and gravy. While she has been serviceably sound most of the winter, she was a little lame on Friday but worked out of it, OK Sunday, pretty sore again Monday. She managed to unweld and jam the bar of her shoe up under the branch, and she was a couple weeks overdue, so I’m hoping that’s the main contributor and also probably because I jumped her but I think she has #noregrets

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She didn’t look too terrible running around for her pre-farrier workout this morning though, so I’m knocking on wood that it’s just a minor and temporary setback.

In conclusion: it wasn’t magical and perfect and the solution to all my problems. But we got shit done and I’d do it again.

Oh, and Lacy is still the fanciest thing ever and I will never be over her, but I’m glad she has a new home that can do her justice.

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It’s OK, we mutually lift one another’s photos off facebook

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Hobbies

Believe it or not, I do things besides rides horses. Sometimes I…. take pictures of horses. My awesome trainer Christy is branching into web design, so she offered to make me a website for my photography stuffs. If you know anyone looking for pictures of their horses or pets in the Chicago area, give me a shout!

http://ncminephotography.com/

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support CANTER Chicago!

Blinkers Off

As many of you know from things I have posted here or on Twitter, I have been volunteering for CANTER since October.  It has been amazing.

I have met so many horsepeople, volunteers, and horses in the last five months.  And, I have been able to find a way to get personally involved in racehorse retirement despite being an apartment-dwelling, car-less city person with neither space nor money for my own horse.  I have been out at Hawthorne just about every Saturday morning over the last few months with other local CANTER volunteers to talk to trainers and help take listings.  I have also put my online chatter tendencies to good use; over the last few months, I have had the reins for our chapter’s Twitter account.

Illinois-bred racehorse (and certified snugglebug) Getwutupreyfor: four days before his final racing start, and seven days before beginning his life as an OTTB! Illinois-bred gelding (and certified snugglebug) Getwutupreyfor: four days before his final racing start, and seven days before beginning his next life…

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The perfect dressage saddle for Thoroughbreds

If anyone in IL is in the market for a new saddle, check this one out!

Collecting Thoroughbreds

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 9.46.30 AM This used 18″ Bates Isabell is in excellent condition and is for sale at Saddler’s Row in Palatine IL.

It took me a while to find the perfect saddle for my OTTBs, and here it is – my beloved Bates Isabell.  It does not fit Fred, who is a draft cross and requires an extremely wide tree. However, if you’re looking for a saddle that accommodates a wither for a horse with a more normal width, take a look at the Bates Isabell. Specifically, my Bates Isabelle, which is now consigned at Saddler’s Row in Palatine, IL.

I really can’t overstate how much I’ve enjoyed this saddle, and how sorry I am that it just didn’t work for my new extra-wide horse.  In addition to being the most soft, grippy and comfortable saddle I’ve ever sat it, I also really appreciated the fact that it’s super adjustable, featuring both the…

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Shameless Plug

In my spare time (haha I have so much of that), I moonlight as a volunteer for CANTER. For those of you unfamiliar with the organization, the acronym stands for Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex Racehorses. CANTER Chicago has recently become our own affiliate. We list horses at Hawthorne and Arlington racetracks. We have a new Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram and we’re working on growing our social media presence. Please like and share so we can spread the OTTB love!

Because what is a post without pictures, some of the horses we’ve rehomed this year

Casa’s Spirit, now enjoying some letdown time before beginning her hunter career

Monkey King, now a trail horse

Champagneforpeace, now an eventer

So Fast Im Fuzzy (spoiler alert: he was not), now a hunter

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Reminiscing

Confession Whine: I miss jumping my horse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy we found dressage and it’s working well for us. But when we found Christy, back when I thought Pearl had “just an injury” that was going to get better, I really hoped that we were going to be poster children for “here is how dressage can improve your jumping.”

I always feel odd saying I started off as a hunter, because I basically jumped speed bumps once a week on random school horses. Not exactly a remarkable career. But I love the feeling of all four feet in the air (on purpose!), and nothing makes me drool like knees to the eyeballs over an oxer full of fill. Preferably dark bay with chrome, of course. Omg a dressage person who doesn’t take every opportunity to bash the hunters what madness is this?!

I’ve tried to piece together Pearl’s past, but I’ve been fairly unsuccessful. I know she was bred by a dressage breeder but made hunter babies. Owners of her offspring that I’ve stalked gotten in touch with have said they were told the dam “did dressage.” So my sneaking suspicion is she was haphazardly taught to jump, and then magically became a “hunter school horse.” Her… unconventional style was a running joke with my college equestrian team. I freely admit to being barn blind, but I really feel like with better flatwork and gymnastics she could have been quite a nice jumper.

Our early efforts were… appalling at times. I used to post on internet forums and everyone was like “omg I am keyboard jockey you are going to have a rotational fall!!!1!!!”

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There was one horrifying “clinic” where I played photog which basically turned into “let’s run Pearl at big fences and see if she clears them” day. The instructor was like “omgz she is so talented, you should sell her as a junior jumper on the West Coast” and I cried thinking she was going to leave.

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Knees???

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Legs? What do I do with them? Her gaping mouth is why I am always like I AM NOT THE RIDER IN THESE PHOTOS.

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Courses? Who is organized enough for courses? Surely we should just set big singles and run her at them.

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Aaaaand that is why you shouldn’t do that. It’s already been established that homegirl is a saint.

But she actually got super cute with gridwork

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If still a little… overjump-y

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And sometimes we were able to jump actual courses with jumps you didn’t need a microscope to see

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Pardon my horrifying equitation in all these pictures

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You get extra points for matching your outfit to the jump

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And she clearly was… enthusiastic about it

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And I’ll always wonder if she would’ve been one of those ones who sharpened up her style as the fences got bigger, or if she always would be of the “heave my body and don’t fold my legs” variety. Right around the time when she got Really Lame, I was working at a fancy hunter barn and the trainer asked me if I wanted to move her there and work for board instead of cash. I would’ve missed my Christy crew, but I probably would’ve hopped on that opportunity, since there is no way I would ever be able to straight up afford a program like that. I just really regret that I was never (as in literally not one time) able to take a lesson on my own horse with a highly qualified, well-respected jumping instructor.

She freaking loved to jump, and I wonder if she misses it as much as I do and I definitely am not a big enough nerd to have an “animal communicator” do a “reading” and she definitely didn’t “say” she wanted to jump more.

Sometimes she jumps imaginary jumps

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She free jumped once and I was like will you have my babies plz

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Sometimes (like literally a couple times a year) I am a bad Navicular Mom and let her hop over teeny weeny things because she LOVES it so much

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Can you see the jump? Look closely and you might be able to find it.

And she throws a party for herself on landing, so I figure she can’t be hurting too bad

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DID YOU SEE ME JUMP THE THING I JUMPED THE THING AND I WAS SO GOOD AT IT

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Like, could her ears possibly be any more forward? And her tail flagged? So it’s our little very occasional secret. I would never actually School Her Over Fences, but she does worse to herself out on her own that I don’t beat myself up about it as long as she can walk the next day.

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Dear lord horse why would you put that much weight on your poor front feetsies

So there you have it. I would chew off my own arm to make this horse sound enough to jump again. But as always, I am so incredibly grateful that she is sound enough for what she CAN do.

 

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State of the Lameness Address

Pearl has been “back in work” (defined as walk/trot/usually canter 4-5 days a week) for about a month now, since we moved to our winter farm. Here is where I always feel like I have to get disclaimer-y. No, the horse is not clinically sound, and cannot be made so for love nor money. However, she is comfortable enough under saddle that she can have a job, and if she doesn’t get ridden exercise she tends to get creative in her self-exercise regimen, so with the support of my team (vets, farrier, trainer) I ride her and let her dictate what she’s comfortable with. So far she has been perfectly happy, but with the creakiness that comes from being an 18-year-old horse in winter. So I’ve had “maintenance” on my radar, because I want her to be able to use her body to the best of her ability, so that she is not dumping any excess weight on those bad front feet.

One of the many perks of working at an equine sports medicine clinic is I can say “You know what? We’re having a slow day; let’s go inject my horse’s hocks.” She hasn’t had her hocks done since spring 2013, and based on what I feel under saddle I was pretty confident she needed those injected. The vet I tech for is fairly soon out of school, and as such is enthusiastic about sharing knowledge, so we did a lameness workup (lungeing, flexions) for my own educational purposes.

We started off by watching a video of Pearl under saddle (she is sounder under saddle than on the lunge) and playing “tell me what you see.”

I see that she is short in both hinds, left more than right. I do not see any overt (headbobbing) lameness in front. He confirmed the shortness behind, and added that she is landing hard on her left front, presumably in an effort to unload the right front (the worse of the two). I need to get better at seeing these things, and have asked him to walk me through it a bit more when we are at farms.

Next we took her into the arena to lunge. I wish I had taken a video of her lungeing for reference. She looked pretty good for her… I assume having softer footing helps. I got a briefing on the AAEP Lameness Scale. Basically, a 1 is intermittent/hard to detect lameness at the trot, a 2 is consistent under some circumstances (ie lungeing one direction or another), a 3 is consistent anytime the horse is trotting, 4 is lame at the walk and 5 is non weight bearing. Pearl is a solid 2 right front lungeing and trotting in hand. She is also a grade 2 on both hinds, as she does not bring them forward (shortened cranial phase) and is quick off the ground.

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Her flexions went about as expected– positive on both hind uppers (hocks) and very painful to the point we barely even flexed her right front lower (coffin/fetlock). Which sounds kind of bad, having your horse lame in three legs! However, this is where she was starting from, when she was at her worst

Headbobbing at the walk and very lame at the trot, so a solid 4. We’ve come a long way, baby!

The last videos I had of her lungeing are from this past August. Slight head bob going right, significant head bob going left.

However, she was nowhere near that lame under saddle at that time. Not sure if it’s bigger circles or she is carrying herself better with a rider, but I’ll take it. Again, I wish I had videoed her on Monday, because she really did look the best on the lunge I’ve seen in a while. She also looks a heck of a lot better free lungeing running around the arena like a crazy thing.

So, we settled on injecting both her hocks as well as her right front coffin. She got .5 dorm and 1 torb, for those keeping score at home. She definitely was due for her hocks– the joint fluid that came out was very thin/watery and tinged with blood.

I asked the million dollar question: Based on how she goes under saddle, would she get kicked out of the show ring? The answer was a firm no, which… says something about the show industry, but that’s for another time.

She had a couple days of rest/handwalking, and then we’ll build up to lightly hacking later this week. I’m excited to see how the injections help her. I feel like the last time she had her hocks injected I didn’t feel a huge difference, but I feel like I’m a much more educated rider and more in tune to her, so hopefully I will better be able to tell.

Just for funsies/if there is anyone else out there struggling with the same issues, here is the regimen to keep Pearl serviceable. I’m not sure which of these things actually help her in a significant amount, but she’s going so well I’m not about to change anything!

Shoeing: 3 degree wedge pads on both fronts, bar shoe and Equipak on the right front

Turnout: As much as possible (but not pasture board, because she would starve)

Meds: previcox (quarter of the 227 mg tab) daily, 500 mg isoxsuprine BID

Supplements: Actiflex, extra MSM, Bute-Less pellets (plus vitamin E and tri-amino for muscle, and a probiotic)

Maintenance: Pentosan every 2 weeks, Osphos every 6 months. We’ll see how often she needs her intra-articular injections, if she continues in work… my guess would be coffin every 6 months and hocks every 12 which… we’ll see if I can afford to keep that up.

Legwork: Back On Track wraps when she is stalled after working, ice in the summer when I have access to a freezer that works

I think that’s it! Like I said, I’m not sure how much is science and how much is witchcraft, but she looks great so I’m not fixing what ain’t broke.

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Breaking news

On Wednesday, January 27 2016, I rode my own horse in a lesson for the first time in 2+ years. I can tell you the exact date (November 4 2013) of our lesson, because the next time she came out of her stall she was lame and continued to be so for the next year.

Of course we had to dress up for the occasion

Of course we had to dress up for the occasion

Before we got started, Christy remarked that from what she’s seen while she’s been teaching other lessons at POF, Pearl has been looking pretty nice. I think that was the best silver lining of all this chronic lameness bullshit. Because I was able to ride so many different horses (thanks to their generous owners) and keep on lessoning even with Pearl out of commission, I was able to keep progressing in my riding, and now I can ride my horse better than I could the last time my own horse was in work.

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Yes, yes she is the cutest

It wasn’t like we were magically up to schooling tests the first time out. We did a lot of working on my position (my inner equitation princess is not speaking to me after she saw the pictures) and a lot of time getting Pearl to carry herself and not just cruise around. She is quite fit cardiovascularly– never was out of breath and barely sweaty at the end– but as Christy reminded me, her muscles aren’t that strong yet, so I really need to be mindful of that and give her breaks, because otherwise both of us will just keep going round and round forever.

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Standing still is the worst though. Please don’t make me do that, mom.

Our biggest challenge was getting her to not curl under the bit when she got tired of a true contact. I’ve been riding her in a leather mullen bit which she seems to tolerate well enough (I rode with it under the hackamore no reins attached for a few months, and then gradually added contact on it), so I feel pretty confident that her fussiness with the contact is a training issue, not physical discomfort. Christy gave me some good exercises to work on, and I already saw an improvement the next time I rode her.

I’m trying to stay realistic. She still looks terrible on the lunge line, so I wouldn’t call her clinically sound. But both my vet and farrier saw the video, and my vet said she “looks fantastic” and my farrier proclaimed her “dead even,” so I am trying to reassure myself that I am not hurting her with this newly increased level of work. If she looks like she is going to stay this level of soundness, I will have her neck/hocks injected, because it’s been so long since I’ve had a 4 figure vet bill I just don’t know what to do with myself I want to be able to ask her to use her body as correctly as possible so she can get her weight off those front feet.

Best of all, having a lesson didn’t break her! I rode her the next day before the farrier (yes, my horse is almost 18 and needs to be ridden down so she can stand still long enough to have her feet done) and turned her out in the indoor afterwards, and she was none the worse for wear. Actually, she warmed up a lot less creaky, so I guess we’re subscribing to motion is lotion.

So there you have it. I’ll still hold my breath every time I trot her off, but if she can keep going like this, I’m the happiest girl in the world.

 

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