Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More on horses, "that 2nd job"

Just a few years ago, I rode Harv every chance I got -- it was so important to me! I drove 50 minutes to ride, I rode in sub-zero temperatures, I hated missing a day.  I had aspirations as a rider, however modest. I  also used to read novels. I used to go to movies and concerts. To the gym. To restaurants.

Then I bought my second horse, Riley.

There goes the gym membership. Reading? No time. But I still rode Harv, my semi-retired boy, and on a good day we'd do a little lengthening across the ring. Harv always knew that diagonal line was for the big trot.

Then Riley got sick.

I stopped thinking about riding and my aspirations as a rider.   I don't like to think about last year and what Riley went through. It was awful, and I think managing his care changed the way I relate to horses. When Riley's hoof was resectioned (I like to say "lopped off"), it had to be kept covered, supported, and clean. It sounds dramatic but I felt like my care was keeping him alive, and this isn't that far from the truth. Caring for him became a second job. At least once a day, and often twice, I was out to check on him, change his bandage, clean his stall, give him meds. I had nightmares that he'd get his bandage off or get loose or founder. He was confined too. While he handled it well, I didn't, and the highlight of 2010 was the beautiful day in February when he was turned out for the first time in 8 months.

So now he's okay, and he's in work, and doing great. I want to ride. But damn it, I can't get out of caretaker mode. I get to the barn, and I'm determined to clean his stall, change his water, check his shoes, fuss over his feet, etc. etc. And if I'm doing this for Riley, I can hardly not do it for Harv. Two hours at the barn, and I haven't swung a leg over either horse.  But it is deeply satisfying. When I leave they lack for nothing, and they're tucked in and safe.

My New Year's Resolution
I have to knock this off! I need to ride. Lesson. Ride. Clinic. Ride. Show. Ride. Don't let me forget, I'm a rider, after all.


  1. Ohhh, I can SO relate! It's so hard to move past that phase. I still wake up, have nightmares, etc and just putting my eyes on my boy is SO reassuring but YES, it takes over the 'riding' part. Whew...but worth it.

  2. The picture is so funny!

    I cannot imagine taking care of two horses; I barely get the time I need for one. I love caring for my horse, but being in the saddle is still the best.

    A word on feet...
    It is really interesting to be both the trimmer and rider for my horse. In the hoofwall, I can see his tendency to weight one shoulder more and when he is using his heels nicely they look polished and thick. I also get to feel these things in the saddle and the freedom in his movement after a fresh trim. It is so neat.

  3. What a thought-provoking post. I know EXACTLY what you mean! It really is easy to get caught up in the "Gotta do this-and-this-and-this" mindset, instead of "Time to relax and ENJOY" state. I don't know if it's maybe a female thing, but I often feel that I don't deserve to do what I really WANT until I've done what I think I HAVE to do. E.g., no tickling the ivories for me unless the piano is dusted and living room picked up. So, how often do I actually play... not much.

    I don't have a horse, much less horses (and yes, two is a ton of work as my friend whose horse I'm currently riding will attest... she has room for more, but sensibly refuses to grow her herd as she knows she's at her limit), but I find I am this way with my animals, too. I don't feel like I can play with the doggie until she's brushed, bowl cleaned, etc. Hubby? Plays with dog, ignores everything else.

    Animals are too darn much work to not enjoy them. You and I need to learn to relax a little and allow ourselves the pleasure of their company.

  4. As the "caretaker" of an fixer-upper, who turned out to have EPM, I can relate. I spent one year trying to figure out what was wrong with my project horse and two years rehabbing him.

    My memories of 2008 and 2009 are pretty dark. I hardly rode as I was committed to his re-breaking, treatment and rehab. I can hardly recall what I was thinking or what happened without looking at my notes. Then without me hardly noticing, we had more good days than bad. Some time this summer he started to be able to handle the warm-up ring at shows and then we actually made it to a show and then another, with a clinic or two in between. We just kept putting one foot in front of the other and before I knew it, the planning, the dreaming, the practicing unfolded in it's own time.

    Anyone can get up on a horse, and some even learn to ride, but it's those days when you just kept showing up, doing what needed to be done, that made you rider.
    [Yup, I know that sounded really corny (cue up the violins already).] Just keep showing up and taking the next step and you'll get there before you know it.

  5. I'm with you and I have no excuse. I go out, take care of the Boys, so some chores, and then I don't ride. Not sure where my ambition went, or why, but as long as the horses don't mind too much....

    You will get back to a routine with Riley and maybe even Harv. Sometimes I think we just need a break from the "obligation" of riding. Then it can become fun again.

  6. I relate, though I come from another side of it. I have -- THANKFULLY -- not had the medical issues with my mare that you've had with Riley, but I work two nights a week at my barn in exchange for free lessons and reduced board, a cost-savings I could not manage without. I've been doing it for several years and, for a lot of reasons (barn management on the downswing, bad full-time stall cleaners, more responsibilities in my own life), I have grown over the last several months to just LOATHE barn work. I have grown to despise it so much that I don't even like going to the barn anymore. It sucks. The barn used to be my "third place" -- the place between work and home, where everybody knows you and you can just relax -- but now it's work, and not even enjoyable work at that. And because I ride less, my spazzy Arab is harder to ride. I fantasize as I muck stalls about showing up to a nice, shiny boarding facility, pulling my horse out of her nice clean stall, tacking up, and riding. No mucking, no water buckets, no sweeping, no barn drama. What a fantasy! Maybe someday...

  7. p.s. the horse in Val's picture could be my mare's twin!

  8. Are your horses well-cared for and healthy? Are you neglecting their care in any way?

    Since I know the answers to those questions are yes and ABSOLUTELY NOT!, my advice to you is simple:
    Enjoy. Don't worry, and don't feel like you "have" to do anything. Riley doesn't know what all breed awards, USDF medals and climbing levels mean. If you want those things, I have no doubt you can pursue them and continue to take great care of your horses. If you don't want them - enjoy your horses, keep caring for them as you do, and do what you want! I am totally goal-oriented and want to climb the levels with my boy. But what I love more than anything is standing in his corral talking to him and scratching him behind his ears. If I had to choose between the two, his ears would never be itchy. Fortunately, I think I can do both, but that's what I *want* to do.

    Anyway, while you're doing this beating yourself up, I hope you also take the time to pat yourself on the back for the AWESOME job you did in bringing back Riley. :)

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  10. Poor Oscar rammed his knee into a fence post. Three weeks and a bit later, he's going to get his stitches out, but the poor boy has been stall-bound with a guard tied to his halter to keep him from ripping at his stitches.

    We've spent a lot of time grooming him and entertaining him. We'll spend a lot more time helping to bring him back into riding shape, maybe for New Year's? Not as much as you did for Riley, but it is a real sense of responsibility!

  11. I guess I could say that my horse is on rough, pasture or self board but really it doesn't have an official title. Basically everything (hay, grain, shavings etc.) is supplied and they get fed BUT when I go I like to clean her stall and give her a nice fluffy bed of shavings. Depending on the last time I've cleaned her stall it takes me about 2-6 wheelbarrowfulls to make it as clean as I want. I just love it when my horse's tail and back are covered in shaving because then I know that she was having fun in the shavings! Sometimes I think that I would love to pay 500 dollars more a month to have her stall cleaned daily and then I think maybe if I was just cleaning up after my horse and not the THREE others whose owners only help out with much (can I say MUCH) cajoling from me. Sigh. I wish I could ride more but I think that if I were a horse I would prefer some shavings to rock solid ground or manure sooooo I shovel and spread and shovel and spread. I hope you love me horse!

  12. I don't think fussing over them is a bad thing, but I think its all about balance. You and Riley went through something really tough, so naturally it takes some time to recover from that, and "get back into the flow of things."
    I'm sure that your boys appreciate every minute you spend with them, whether your on the ground, or on their backs.
    Here's an idea:
    If I were you, I'd ride first, and then do all of the fawning and caring after your ride, so you have your goal out of the way and can use any left over time to fuss. BTW, I love the picture!

  13. I hear you. I'm up to 3 horses now, all boarded at the same farm. If I want to spend time with all 3, then it is 2hrs min at the barn, even if I don't ride one. I don't feel like I can skimp on grooming every horse, because that is the time to check their health and safety.

    My 2 year old is only doing ground work. So my method is, every day I brush all 3, then 2/3 days I ride the older 2. Then 1/3 days I ride just one plus do ground work with the 2 yo.

    Then I go home and eat dinner at 9.

    And once a month, I pay A HUGE BILL!!!

    Next summer I'll start riding her as a 3yo. And I still plan to show the other two plus drag her to some shows.

    ...By that point I'm hoping my clone has finished growing.

  14. Oh and I agree with Kate's advice, do basic grooming stuff then ride first. Then do the harder labor afterwards. If I don't ride first, I don't ride, basically.

  15. I think it's almost a form of PTSD and afraid of letting go, afraid if you don't perform, the universe will fall apart. I had to put down my heart horse a year ago, and he'd had equine metabolic syndrome that turned into Cushings. He had to wear a grazing muzzle, had to be put up 3 times a day for hay, worry, worry, although I was still riding him. I learned to appreciate just walking in the back 60. After I put him down, I literally went through a sort of PTSD nervous break down because I was so geared up to care taking and concern. I suspect there will come back a day when you understand that you don't have to hold things together and that you don't have to have high and lofty goals. Tell yourself, "If I can just saddle him and walk around, that's all I do. I don't have to train, I don't have to condition, I just need to enjoy."

  16. You better start riding!

    If you're following the "What makes a DQ" thread on COTH, "riding avoidance" is one of DQ's prime features! Don't fall into the fuss...fuss...fuss...trap!

    Relax on the fussing. If you're paranoid about your horse's health, know that exercise (riding them!)is one of the BEST things you can do for them. Your old horse especially needs the work to maintain his mobility and muscle. Riding isn't an indulgence on top of your caretaking, it is part of good care.

    Hope that gives you the kick you need!

  17. Most of this summer, my horse also had a resected hoof. He's a big guy and needs some serious workouts to rebound and get his mojo back. Thank you for the reality check. I hear ya' and second the motion! Ride-lesson-Ride-clinic-Ride-Ride-lesson-Ride-clinic-Ride-Show-Ride-lesson-Ride-clinic-Ride-Repeat . .

  18. To Jess:
    Your mare is lovely and she could be Harley's Arabian twin sister!
    I call it "Buttermilk Buckskin".

  19. I didn't know that happened to Riley. How scary. It's wonderful that with your care you brought him back to full health. I can see how that incident would change the dynamic of your riding routine. They say two weeks makes a habit - can you commit to riding 3 or 4 times a week for 2 weeks?


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