Four weeks ago I had a fall. It was not from the back of a horse, as one might expect. No, it was one of those stupid falls, that in hindsight you know could so easily have been avoided (we always feel stupid in hindsight). At the time it seemed a simple fall, but the result has been four weeks of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Unfortunately, it’s also been four weeks of petting horse faces, and otherwise not getting much chance to interact with them – until today!
I was having a fun morning, getting things done and facing a week of vacation. I went to exit the tackroom, now elevated after last year’s reconstruction, with a little too much pep in my step. I hit the top step wrong, the right ankle twisted, and I fell two steps down, landing squarely on my left knee. A seemingly simple fall … until the shock, pain, and swelling all kicked in. Cutting out all the literally painful details, there was no fracture but I’d put tears in a couple of tendons. Healing was further complicated by some recent trips I had to do for work, requiring sitting in a car or plane for a couple of hours each way. There is still bruising, sensitivity, and swelling after four weeks, so needless to say it’s not fully healed. However, I can now walk with little discernible anomaly in my gait, so clearly it is time to resume work with the horses!
My mother has kept turnout schedules for everyone, but between the heat and my limited activity, she’s been unable to do much lunging or riding. So, it seemed wise to start everyone back with groundwork. We’ve been having a heat wave, so I started the morning early. I decided to start with lovely Tally, because she was the least likely to give me a yank. She seemed happy to see me, leaving her hay to come sniff and nuzzle me before putting her pretty nose in the halter. It felt good to put some muscle into the curry, and watch her neck stretch and her upper lip twitch. As I passed in front, she’d lower her head and give a gentle nudge. Looking into her soft eyes felt like having a piece of my soul replaced that I hadn’t fully realized was missing.
The morning was cool, and Tally was clearly feeling good. She politely did some in-hand lateral work, but when we got to lunging there was some head flinging and silliness. So, I asked her to warm-up politely on the lunge, before giving her the opportunity to play at liberty.
Four weeks away can help with perspective. Earlier this year I started to get the sense that something was going better for Tally. I felt that her natural movement, lost since the horrid incident of her starting, was beginning to return. Her innate high, arched neck, from her Friesian heritage, had also disappeared those years ago – but I started to feel that too was changing. Still, it’s easy to dismiss such things as just wishful thinking or imagination. Today I know they are neither of those. For the first time in four years, my mare was doing airs above the ground – high leaps, turns in mid-air, and her natural Capriole-type maneuver that is the source of her name ‘Talaria’ – the winged sandals of Hermes. This sort of play was her standard until the injuries from the trainer who started her under saddle. The flair in movement or athleticism had never returned to my mare, in four years of recovery and retraining. But something has changed this year, and the old Tally is back – but with a more mature, soft attitude. What a joyous realization!
When she was through playing, we wound down with a little lunging the other direction, before finding a nice patch of grass at the base of a tree. Surprisingly, the knee held up pretty well, but was feeling a little ‘clicky’. So, after putting Tally away, I got out the ice pack.
The weather was kind this morning, so I was able to repeat the pattern of horse, ice, horse, and make it through all four of the horses (retiree Nash excluded). Roxie was already turned out, while I was icing, so we just had a nice session of play. Like Tally, she greeted me with nuzzles and sniffs – then off to the races she went! We’re well behind where I’d wanted to be, between her injuries and mine, but she’s cemented her place in the family with her quirky but sweet nature. I watched her parade around and looked forward to the possibilities of our partnership. Walking back to me she had a soft expression that just didn’t exist on her face when she first came her – and that warms my heart more than anything we might have accomplished under saddle.
Next it was Coffee. Mom said that he hadn’t been in a
mood to play for a while – but the morning was still cool and that made all the difference! He was frisky on the lunge, so I told him to mind his manners and he’d get his chance. When he was sufficiently warmed up, I let him rip. He is always a joy to watch play, but he gave me a special treat today – the first thing he did was a lovely and correct medium trot across the diagonal! Here is the horse who could do no more than jog when he came here, even when loose and playing, taking lovely reaching, powerful, cadenced steps across the arena! To me there is no better payback for all the time and training than seeing a horse doing things naturally that never seemed possible before.
Last, but not least by any measure, came Noble. The week of vacation that followed my injury was meant to be a boost in his training – but that obviously never happened. I was most concerned about him, simply because he hadn’t been handled outside of his stall in four weeks (he has regular access to the back on his own). Given his youthful attitude, I was not sure if we’d be starting over again – but I decided to test the waters. So, we went straight out the front of the barn. He rewarded my daring by being the calmest he’s been so far. Not even one soft snort sifted out! He nibbled at the bits of grass he could find, as we made our way around the usual area.
He then showed interest in venturing further, so we walked the whole circuit of the barnyard. As we got to the furthest point, he started to get tense – but I talked to him and he calmed enough to finish a peaceful walk with no incident. He enjoyed a lovely currying session, and worked really hard at standing still in the cross ties while I checked waters. I’m falling back in love with this horse all over again!
It was a lovely first day back – and a clear confirmation not only that horses are a critical piece of my being, but also that the work we’ve been doing (however slow) is all moving in the right direction! This week groundwork … next week, the saddle!
Be good to your horses!