I’m a big believer in down time for the horses. Whenever I can, usually once mid-summer and once late fall, I like to give my personal FEI (or nearly-FEI) horses six weeks of “fluffing,” as I call it, where we spend a lot of time in the snaffle walking and trotting and cantering around on circles, punctuated by days of just hacking around. It’s good for their minds as well as their bodies, and I’m always so impressed by how great they feel when I pick them back up and put them back to work on Week 7.
But this year in particular, this competition schedule that stretched on for so ruddy long, I’m finding it hard to get motivated to work any of my horses, even Johnny and Farrah.
It’s not that they’re not all going well. Fender feels so great in his head right now—so happy to take pressure, which has not always been the case for him. Once a week right now I am putting the heat on, working on baby canter pirouettes and approaching some semblance of a half step, two things that, earlier in the year, were playing with fire. Today he’s Mr. Willing, and both are getting perfectly presentable—the half steps are still a ways away, but he’s trying his heart out, and one of the two pirouettes is horse-show ready.
The other days of the week I fluff, or hack, or just turn him out. The dramatic downturn in the weather has mostly kept me inside, and it’s just so hard to find the joy in riding when it feels like 20 degrees, the wind is howling and you’re wearing 19 pairs of pants.
On the plus side, I figure all those layers can act as padding should Farrah attempt to unload me, which has only come close to happening twice, and even then, it was mostly bravado on her part. She was a big 2-year-old, but hasn’t really grown since, and at about 15.3 and short-coupled, when she says “peace out,” I have to keep my 5’10” wits about me and my center of balance low.
She was started so brilliantly—the work is beyond reproach—and she’s going to be just fine, in the long run. But that air of unpredictability does sometimes give me pause. I ain’t as young as I once was, and installing manners in baby horses requires courage, even in the kindest of creatures. This time of year, after fighting the wars, as fun and cool as she is (and she is SERIOUSLY fun and cool, she rides like a Ferrari, it’s amazing), I sometimes need to talk myself into getting on.
And then there’s Johnny. Johnny Bravo, love of my life. Johnny is guaranteed to put a smile on my face, because he, too, is like driving a fine Italian sports car, and with a riotous sense of humor to boot. He is so eager and so cheerful all the time, like a Jack Russell Terrier, and he’s making progress in leaps and bounds. If it’s anyone I should be giddy about getting on every day, it should be him.
What is up with that? He’s the fanciest damn thing I’ve ever sat on, and a pleasure, and yet I find myself struggling to figure out what to do with him once I’m in the tack. I think there’s a voice in the back of my head, reminding me to slow down, reminding me that of all the horses I’ve had at his age, he’s the furthest along, and that scares me. The last thing I want is to push too hard, too fast.
So he works four days a week, and does actually work. We’re progressing in a real connection from hind legs to bridle, in really stepping out and up to my hand at trot without taking over. The canter I don’t power up as much; it’s more balanced in some ways, like in how we’re really getting on top of the walk-canter-walk transitions, but much much less in other ways, so I tease out baby counter-canter lines, chuck in a change every now and then (he’s got the idea, but has one change where the hind legs hardly ever change at all, much less on time with the front ones; I don’t care at this age, I just like to remind him that they’re in the realm of possibility for him), do some leg yields and a lengthening, and then hack him around.
Midge continues to make progress. And I do have some fun new client horses to ride, which I never struggle to find exciting—a fabulous 6-year-old Fidertanz gelding who has one of the most delightful basic educations of anything that age I’ve ever sat on, and a new horse we just got for my mom in Holland who is FABULOUS and should be arriving next week. My mom vetoed his name and I think we’re now calling him Wheatley, and he clearly read the same textbook as me, because I could just get on and make virtually everything I wanted, as hot or cold as I wanted him, and then set the reins down at the walk and let him loaf around with no issues. Song in my heart.
This lethargy will pass. I know it will. I’ve seen this before, though admittedly not quite to the degree I’m at right now. The holidays fill me with a primal burn to nest, eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and read Harry Potter on my couch. With Thanksgiving this week, I forced myself out for a run during one of the winter storms, anticipating it being totally awful, flurries fluttering about and 30 mph winds. And knock me down with a feather, it felt great. The cold was refreshing, and kept my speed up. I blasted out the fastest 4 miles I’ve ever done.
I’ll find my inspiration again. Just probably not today. Maybe not tomorrow, either.