When it comes to her Thoroughbred mare, blogger Jennifer Wollenberg never knows who is going to show up: “Good Val” or “Bad Val.”
Spring has finally sprung in southeastern Pennsylvania, bringing with it such joys as blooming flowers, leafing trees, and greening pastures. Also, shedding, muddy horses with an abundance of energy and not enough turnout time to run it off. Val has essentially had the entire winter off and so it’s back to basics to build up fitness, balance, and lost muscle and jog her memory on things like lateral flexion and self-carriage. My goal is to get her back in the swing of things so that by early to mid-June she’ll be fit enough to make it worth having my new instructor out to the farm for lessons. We’ve been doing work on the lunge, with some mounted work primarily at the walk and trot as time and Val’s temperament allow.
Yes, let’s talk about the springtime temperament of my Thoroughbred mare for just a moment. It is as predictable as the gusting winds that come with the season. Will it be “good Val,” or “bad Val” today? One Saturday a couple weeks ago she came out a little up, but given that she’s been cooped up in the small turnout area recently that wasn’t too surprising. After about 10 minutes on the lunge, I decided to get on, and we did about 20 uneventful minutes of light flat work. She had her head in the game and I was cooling her out when one of the other boarders pulled into the farm with her trailer to pick up her horse and head over to a local park for a ride with a friend. Val saw that trailer (and likely smelled that unfamiliar gelding on the trailer) and pretty much decided that the end of the world had come. She went from plodding around the ring to a snorting, prancing, rearing mess in about 45 seconds, at which point I decided it was time to get off before I fell off. A friend who also happened to be in the ring held Val so I could jump down.
A few days later, she was in my pocket and calm as could be on the lunge – lazy, in fact. The next visit to the barn, she caught sight of the new lambs (clearly dangerous predators) and became so worked up in her stall that I gave up on grooming her and headed straight to the ring to put her to work. It took 20 minutes of work on the lunge before she even thought about focusing to do anything productive. Who am I kidding? It was 20 minutes of her trying to run in circles around me, with some standing-on-her-hind-legs-pawing-the-air antics thrown in for good measure. I refer to those rare but impressive displays as her “Black Stallion impression.” I have come to recognize them as her version of a temper tantrum, and like dealing with my toddler’s tantrums, they pass most quickly if they’re basically ignored. This past weekend, “good Val” was back, listening, willing, calm. She reminds me of the Longfellow poem about the little girl, which says “When she was good, She was very, very good, And when she was bad she was horrid.”
The thing is, I know that these challenges will be short lived. Every year we seem to have a short period of spring fever when we start to get back to work, where lunacy may be triggered by whatever provides a convenient excuse for misbehavior (the “killer” goats, a strong wind, the barn cat sitting on the fence). Then, a few weeks into the routine, Val settles down to work and shows that she can be sane, smart, and willing. Recent evidence notwithstanding, she actually has a really good mind and it’s one of the things I like best about her. But as much as I enjoy a little fire in my horses, I’m looking forward to working through the spring fever and getting down to business!
About Jennifer: I’m an amateur rider trying to figure out how to maximize my time at the barn while juggling the competing demands of a one year old daughter, a wonderful husband, and a challenging job. I’ve been riding for over 25 years and I’ve done a little teaching, a little training, a fair bit of showing, and a lot of just hacking around. My current project is training a wonderful Thoroughbred mare on a once-a-week riding schedule.
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