It’s been a big summer where we keep our horses. We went from having an adequate dry lot and one small pasture that doubled as somewhere to ride to having a much larger dry lot and a few new acres of grass to play with. The extra space has enabled us to put in some very helpful improvements. Chiefly, these are a hitching post, a round pen, and an arena.
The round pen and arena have been a huge help with Roland. In his defense, he has never yet done anything under saddle that would have made my younger self think I needed either of these spaces. But I turned 40 last year. I will admit I am much more reluctant to fall off horses than I used to be. When I was younger, I didn’t have the faintest idea that old injuries didn’t just heal and go away. I’ve come off a lot of horses a lot of times. Sometimes hard. On top of that, I am extremely hypermobile. That means my joints are really bendy and my tendons are super loose. There is scale for measuring the degree of hypermobility in people. I score 9 out of 9. I have never met a person as hypermobile as myself and every medical professional I’ve consulted on the topic has been shocked by my degree of flexibility. This might not seem like a bad thing. But hypermobility is strongly linked to tendon issues and chronic pain. It’s very easy for hypermobile people to injure themselves and very hard for them to fully recover. As I’ve aged, many old injuries I thought I’d recovered from have come back to haunt me.
Since this is a blog about horses and not pain, I will not delve too deeply into this topic. But starting when I came off Nevada very badly in 2016 until the start 2022, I was in some degree of pain very close to 100% of the time. I hurt my back in that fall and I have never fully recovered. However, I started daily yoga in 2021 and also picked up some pain-centric meditation techniques. Together, those two things have helped tremendously. I am now not in pain most of the time. It’s a very good change.
So … Roland. My feeling that I do not want to acquire any new injuries has turned me into a much more cautious person than I used to be as far as horses are concerned. I’m not sure I totally realized that until we got Roland back to the farm and found he was a lot more sensitive, responsive, forward, and intelligent than we’d perceived during our test ride. He was so sensitive, in fact, that just about any contact at all seemed to overstimulate him and produce stress. Even grooming was difficult. And though we rode him a few times last year, I always felt like our time under saddle was winding him up rather than teaching him anything.
We stopped riding and worked on groundwork. That helped some but it was a lot more dramatic than would be ideal. Roland has a very narrow window of stimulation between “don’t react” and “react an awful lot.” So he’ll get stuck on something and you’ll apply a little more pressure to help him through and suddenly something explosive happens.
We did make headway though. Then the winter hit and we had a lot of months doing very little with the horses. This spring we pulled Roland out again and he seemed to have matured. He could stand still when touched. Our groundwork was a lot less dramatic as well. Although he’s an extremely different horse than Piper, I remembered some of the things I learned from her about giving a horse time and space to think. But unlike Piper, Roland is a dominant horse. And many times in our work together he has started to interpret space I am giving him to learn as a concession of some kind. He will rapidly learn to use that kind of gap to his advantage. I had to be on the watch for this constantly.
Taken together with the fact that it’s actually been a very long time since I worked with a green horse, this was a tricky package to work with. So yeah. The round pen helped. We did a lot of liberty work in there at first, which was very clarifying. Then I climbed on. We had a few good rides in the round pen. Today I rode him in the the arena for the first time.
Roland and I had a lovely time together. I think we are starting to feel some mutual trust. Today he was a teeny bit antsy before the ride. For the first time ever, I felt like I was able to steady him and comfort him through physical contact while I got him ready to ride.
Under saddle, things were good. He’s very green in some ways but much less so in others. Most of our issues today came from me feeling anxious and not giving him enough room to make the mistakes he needs to make. But we both relaxed throughout our ride. We walked. We trotted. He offered a canter but I didn’t take it. Maybe next time.