Message in a Bottle Rocket
Aaruba came home to In the Night Farm on a July afternoon in 2006.
Because of his shaky training foundations and highly emotional nature, as well as my own need to build confidence, we spent an entire year on groundwork. If the was one thing he never lacked, it was energy. When we finally we began training on the trail in July 2007, his tireless nature remained intact. From the first day forward, he never stopped asking, “Can we go? Can we? Farther? Faster?”
By summer 2008, we’d settled at last into a steady conditioning schedule involving roughly 40 miles of long, slow distance work per week. At long last, Aaruba seemed happy. He thrived on effort and motion, loved nothing better than the open road. Endurance was his life.
These days, post-colic, he finds himself back in that pen, unemployed and disconsolate. Watching him breaks my heart; it’s like seeing a high-powered businessman who retired and wishes he hadn’t, or an Olympic hopeful rendered quadriplegic by an automobile accident. Knowing him as I do, I see that he is in frequent pain. I think it is minor, but history shows that he’s exceptionally stoic. He plays anyway, more than I wish he would. Every day, I watch him run and buck and spin about in search of purpose and release.
As Aaruba emerged from his recent colic emergency, I talked at length with several vets who know him well, both healthy and ill. All agreed that if Aaruba were the sort of horse that could be content with an occasional amble along the irrigation ditch, that would be the safest way of life for him, given the probability that he suffers from small intestinal adhesions. But Aaruba is not that sort of horse. He had “Fit Arab Syndrome” long before he was actually fit. He’s as likely to hurt himself in the pasture due to lack of work as is he is to suffer damage during an extended trot under saddle. In short, I must consider the whole horse.
It is unfair that he hasn’t the power to decide for himself. Lacking a voice, he must rely on me — his best friend, I hope — to listen as carefully as I can and choose for him.
Some of the answers are obvious. He wants to go! Yesterday, I tossed my Stonewall over his back for his third, short ride since he returned from the hospital a month ago. We walked the first mile, warming up, reasonably calm. But when I asked for a trot, I got full-on powerhouse mode. I wasn’t wearing a watch, but I’d put that trot in the neighborhood of 18 mph. We cantered a little, too, which was heaven for us both.
And then, reluctantly, we walked again. Two miles of speed, for a horse accustomed to 15, was not enough. Aaruba turned almost instantly into a horse I didn’t know. Clearly having outrun his brain, he danced and jigged, head high enough to burn his ears on the setting sun. He got light in front and even half-reared once — a move entirely out of character for my sweet, if energetic, boy.
We circled, flexed, worked on “head-down” cues, and made it home safely. Dismounting, I felt as though I owed him an apology. I’ve tried to take it easy on him, you see, tried to keep his workload very low in the interest of minimizing discomfort in his gut. Alas, yesterday’s message was loud and clear: I am not okay. Mental anguish is worse than physical. Please, please, please take me out more.
So I will. Perhaps there’s balance to be found in more frequent, less intense rides. Or somewhere else. I’ll look until I find it.
And perhaps, one day, I will be worthy of this kind award from Kimberly Cox Carneal, who is an excellent writer and the author of one of my favorite blogs, Enlightened Horsemanship Through Touch. Thanks for the encouragement, Kim. I’ll do my best to earn this.
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