Well, we’re 2.5 months into 2021. Last year when I set the very modest goal of enjoying our horses, I did not realize how big a challenge that would end up being. The derecho meant we were moving (twice) and house-shopping in the midst of a pandemic. It was hard to make the horses a priority most of the time.
The apartment we lived in for fours months while we were trying to get our life back in order was less than ten minutes away from the farm where our horses now live. It was also a basement unit with almost no view of the outside. It had an apartment overhead that housed four college students. To say it was not a totally relaxing environment will suffice. As a result, we found ourselves escaping to the outdoors every chance we got. And we were lucky that we had a long, mild fall.
Nobody’s Getting Any Younger
There were other challenges, though. Steen will be 21 this year. Mid-summer I started to notice he was reluctant to pick up his leads sometimes and was also sometimes stiff in the canter, particularly on bends. Then a few weeks later he started to feel off at the trot. It only happened if he was carrying a rider. And it was subtle. But our vet confirmed what I was feeling, which is that he’s got some arthritis in his hocks. Stamping at flies made it much worse. And he also had his usual phase of being vulnerable to sunburn. So we had some rough weeks.
The move has also been more of a challenge for Steen than the others. He might be getting older, but he’s no less emotional and no less full of energy than he’s ever been. He was more stressed by the changes and it took him longer to settle. Work helped. But we don’t have an indoor arena at the new place and the footing where we ride is sometimes iffy. I didn’t entirely realize how I often I would canter some circles to warm up before we got to slower work until I couldn’t do it anymore.
My vet suggested doing fewer circles with Steen and more straight lines, and also prescribed some meds. The first time I rode him after the drugs had a chance to act, he charged up the whole length of the pasture, bucking the entire way. Steen hasn’t run off with me or bucked in over a decade. He wasn’t trying to throw me that day. He was just happy to be feeling good again. But after that I was constantly facing the challenge of trying to find productive, light, not-circle-shaped ways to use up his exuberant energy. Drugs are not magical. They can mask his stiffness and discomfort. But if I ride him too hard, I’ll only hurt him more in the long run.
We hadn’t really figured it out by the time the winter hit. And as we had heavy snow on the ground from mid-December until things thawed about a week ago, I didn’t trust the footing enough to do any cold weather riding. Now we’ve got the snow melted, but the ground is too wet to ride on without damage. So we’re waiting for things to start growing in earnest before we can get on horseback again.
One Step at a Time
So it’s going to be another year of adapting to changes. I am hopeful I can learn Steen’s new limits and potentially distribute my riding to other horses when possible. We also (finally!) bought a horse trailer last year. But then our house got smashed by an enormous tree and it wasn’t a good time to acquire anything to pull it with. However, I sold my car the same day we signed on our new house. It was simpler to get through the winter and the move with only one vehicle. But a few weeks ago we bought a truck at last.
Which means we are now equipped to ride places other than where our horses live. This is exciting but also intimidating. Despite all my years owning horses, I have never hauled them. So I am going to have to learn to get comfortable and the horses are going to have to get good at going places. There are multiple indoor arenas near where our horses live. But there is still a pandemic going and it’s not the easiest time to just ask to stop in and use people’s facilities.
Still, I’m hoping I can find a way to keep working with Steen this year. My vet thinks he will only benefit from continued light work and I’m not ready to retire him anyway. If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that adaptation is always possible. So here’s hoping we still have many saddle hours to look forward to.