“I think there’s hope”

 

I had been on total pins and needles waiting to hear how the remainder of the week went and was only mildly panicking on how I was going to transport my horse back home (don’t own a trailer/truck) and then get her a spot at the cowboy J recommended. Not to mention I had already convinced myself Phoebe was doomed to forever be a feral rodeo horse and dear god what was I gonna do with THAT.

BFFs

Luckily my fears were unwarranted.

I got reports saying things like “she never mentally checked out on me even though she was really bucking on the lunge today, I think there’s hope” and “superstar!”

Being pretty is so hard

With the assistance of a working student J has been starting some under saddle work and just taking it super cautiously slow. Better to build up a bunch of positive experiences under saddle doing the most basic stuff then try to push it and have one bad experience at this point.

 

Phoebe: making good first impressions

Phoebers got dropped off Easter weekend to big girl school while her trainer to be, J, was competing at Twin Rivers in CA.

The plan was to drop her off, let her settle in a few days and then she would have her first session the Tuesday after and J would just kind of assess where Little Miss was and we would make a tentative plan going forward from there. The last thing I’m interested in doing is trying to hit certain training milestones or goals by some arbitrary timeline. My horse is young, she’s coming back from some body and mental funk, with her the slow way is gonna be the fast way, you know?

Who me? Need extra time? I only need cookies!

Sounds reasonable right?

HA!

On day one of training I get a text from J saying “can you give me a call today when you get a chance?”

Oh god.

J asked if Phoebe had ever been ridden before. Used the words “feral rodeo horse”. Um yes, she raced 7 times, had 90 days “training” with her previous owner and I had ridden her myself a handful of times.


She knows how to be ridden.

Apparently Phoebe did not demonstrate any of this knowledge on day one at school. J had some concerns about keeping her in training because she no longer breaks babies and is not interested in riding a horse that (at least that day) seemed possibly dangerous. I can’t argue with that. I do NOT want anyone riding or handling my horse to get injured and I respect that J called me right away to discuss it. She gave me the name of local cowboy who breaks babies and has a great reputation as someone who produces calm and reasonable mounts.

Ultimately we decided to tentatively chalk day one up as first day jitters and to proceed with training sessions for a week or so and see how Phoebe behaved going forward. I told J that it was 100% her call if she felt comfortable actually sitting on Phoebe or if she deemed lunging/groundwork to be more appropriate on any given day.

And that’s how Phoebe almost got kicked out of full training after one session.

Oh, P.S. Phoebe can buck.

I cannot overstate this.

She.

Can.

Buck.

On one hand, like, yay? She’s clearly feeling so good to be able to do that kinda thing?

She’s….expressive.

On the other hand. Damnit.

I don’t consider myself to be any kind of wunderkind but I am a pretty competent rider. And I can stick a lot of stuff. Never having owned my own horse previously it was sort of a beggars can’t be choosers so I would and did ride anything. All of this to say, it takes a fair amount to get me on the ground.

Except little miss lawn darted me three times. First time she spooked at something, she hadn’t been back under saddle that long and was still feeling not so great. She spooked, bucked, I was unseated and when my butt hit the saddle she BUCKED. Lawn dart #1 ended with a little trip to urgent care to clean gravel out of my elbow.

Lawn dart #2 I am not really sure what the trigger was. It was a few months after the first “episode” and I was stupidly riding at home alone. Just like before I was too winded, in pain and just not about to get back on especially with nobody at the house. So Phoebe got lunged because bucking is not ok and I do NOT want her to learn that bucking Megan off means work is over.

Lawn dart #3 I was not alone, Sheri was my ground person, and I asked for the canter and away we went. Bucking that is, not so much cantering. I hung on for a few then hit the dirt, caught my breath, and even though my back was starting to spasm I got back on and had Sheri lead me around at the walk for a few minutes.

So at that point the path forward was clear. I obviously could not ride through her bucking. I was doing everything in my power to ensure that all physical issues were being addressed. The more times I fell the more nervous I became, which we all know is just picked up and amplified by our four legged partners. Phoebe was also learning that if she was done there was a really easy way to get out of working.

All loaded up!

And that is how Phoebe earned an open ended ticket to big girl school. AKA bootcamp. AKA full training at a great facility about an hour and a half north of me. Time for the pros to take over.

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Wait, are you just gonna leave me here? Yes. Yes I am. 

Well, am I ever going to ride my horse?

Short answer? Duh. For me that is the whole point of having one. Not to say that I don’t enjoy just being around horses, but…an expensive creature to have as a pet, no?

I let Phoebes just relax and be massaged and eat for a few months then I decided it was time. At some point you just have to get over yourself and sit on the damn horse. I spent a week or so doing some easy lunging in just a halter, both to get an idea of her soundness (physical and mental) as well as to leg her up a bit/get back in the working mindset. Since I rent out a mother in law on my friend’s farm I am pretty lucky to have a knowledgeable ground person to help with stuff like this!

Her first between the ears photo. I love it so much just for that fact alone. Proof I rode her.

I moved pretty slowly, (can you ever move too slowly in this type of situation though?) and started with just getting on and off while Sheri (farm owner and ground person extraordinaire) held her head. Then in a day or so we graduated to being led at the walk around the arena, and next walking around on my own.

So blurry. But! Look who can be ridden in really dim lighting in the winter!!

Things sort of ticked along at a snails pace, we were walking, trotting, going over trot poles, all with relative relaxation. Relative. There were a few times when riding had to pause (my sister’s out of town wedding, some lost shoes…) but in general I was feeling fairly okay about it all. My horse was sound, her pelvis kept improving, and best of all I got the “Phoebe is now showing tension patterns consistent with an uninjured horse so you could say she is no longer in rehab and is now just a green horse” from the beloved Auntie Jean.

Bodywork… and some more bodywork

Since Phoebe was (and still is a little) a bit of a physical train wreck the first thing I wanted to start with was massage.

Chicken not part of the massage. But gold stars to pony who didn’t even flinch as Big D jumped up and just stood there for a while.

Like a lot of it. The amazing Auntie Jean was coming out every other week for a session for quite some time. Sounds like overkill for a horse I wasn’t even riding but I am of the mind that if you are going to do something then you do it right and you do it right the first time. We are our horses stewards and if you aren’t willing to really take on that role then you probably shouldn’t own one.

 

She mostly got a combo of myofascial release and kinesiotaping to change the angle of her pelvis, along with the myriad of other compensatory muscle tightness that likely stemmed from that hind end.

Was not kidding about the amount of kinesiotape. She had even more around her poll this session.

Along with session notes (which I seriously LOVE and find so valuable) Auntie Jean gives homework in the form of gentle stretches and turnout/light work recommendations. Let me tell you I FOLLOW THESE. As in every time I pull Phoebes out of her stall she gets stretched. Every. Time. Part of this is because I want to give her the best chance I can, and part of it is I am paying for a service. A service that can only do so much for my horse unless I am also putting in the work to help develop the correct posture and get the tension to LET GO ALREADY. I am on a shoestring budget as it is and I just don’t see a point to dump a ton of money into body work if I am not going to do simple stretches in order to maximize the benefits.

 

So now what?

Well, I had myself a barely 4 year old OTTB mare. Who was seriously body sore, and who may never have had any true letdown time since coming off the track. She also had a gaping surface wound on her knee reportedly from having a special moment too close to her plastic feeder that required daily irrigation for a week or so. Good thing my barn owner is an x-ray tech and brings home syringes, betadine, sterile gauze, chlorhexidine wash, all kinds of goodies from the hospital. Phoebes was doctored up in no time!

The next few months were spent just being a horse. You know, learning about life on a backyard farm, gaining weight and in general trying to figure out what kind of horse I had picked up and what in the world I was going to do with her.

 

April 2016-A month after Phoebe came home. Clearly tight and sucked up, underweight, and wtf is going on in that hind end?

June 2016-Starting to fill out and untuck that pelvis

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September 2016-Looking filled out and butt high

Why eat the hay when you can just roll in it?

 

Let’s start at the very beginning…

After decades of begging, borrowing, and stealing rides on other people’s horses I was finally in the position to buy my own, so horse shop I did. I tried maybe half a dozen horses, had my trainers look at countless sales videos, ended up vetting three candidates and finally bought one. Then within six months the wheels feel off and it became clear my sweet simple Joey would not be my event horse, he at best would be a trail/companion horse for someone.

Joey, JC name Cotton Moon-the literal cutest


Throughout his ordeal I had invested a lot of time having bodywork done on him by the amazing Auntie Jean. She happened to have a client who was looking to give away a young OTTB that needed some rehab and did I want her. Of course I did what any sane person who had just spent an ungodly amount of money and time on trying to make a horse sound would. A few weeks, some strange text messages, and a little barn reconfiguring later I brought her home. (Side note: picking up a free horse after seeing  a 60 second video with no vetting, not even a flex test is insanely stupid. Don’t be like me.)

Phoebe. Nervous baby.


Enter Phoebe. JC name Pretty Adieu, a 2012 gray mare who was in serious need of some TLC. She is much younger then my ideal, the absolute LAST color I would have chosen, and you know. A mare. Anybody with eyes can see she has some seriously funky stuff going on in her hind end and that pelvis angle…. yikes. Her previous owner had picked her up as a 3yo from Canter Illinois, put her in a straight load bumper pull with the wrong hitch and then drove her up to Mt Vernon, WA. So yeah, two and a half days sitting on your ass in a trailer will do that. She was also walking by slapping her legs down like you would if you just ran a marathon. But despite her worried face she was extremely sweet and she was mine.

That worried look lasted for a few months…