There is a proverb that goes, “You reap what you sow.” Never does that feel more true than when you’re dealing with a young horse on stall rest. Any gaps in the horse’s education on the ground become glaringly, painfully obvious.
At the beginning of July, amidst a firestorm (kind of literally) in my life, an x-ray indicated that my mare — who has been more off than on this year — had a hairline fracture in her front right pastern. Although the prognosis is good, this is just one more thing on top of what has already been a heck of a year for all of us. For the most part, I am grateful because this could have been so much worse. The soft tissue involvement seems to be minimal and my friend and barn manager has been wonderfully accommodating when it comes to moving Mac to a larger stall and coming up with ideas to keep her busy (stay tuned for that adventure).
However, what this experience has highlighted for me is exactly where I have gone wrong as a horse owner. Not so much with the fractured pastern because, heck, s#!t happens (and with horses, it tends to happen a lot). No, this experience has shown me how important a solid foundation on the ground is. All the real horse trainers out there are probably doing something like this right now:
And I get it. I really do. Y’all have been telling the rest of us for ages that success with horses is all in the work from the ground. We, the amateurs who like to think we have nice horses, nod and smile while our horses push us around and we insist that they’re just “in-your-pocket” types. It’s not until we are in a predicament when the gaps in our horse’s education on the ground leads to a dangerous situation that we really appreciate the importance of ground work. Whether we’re in a trailer loading argument with our horse, schooling on the flat or, you know, dealing with our wound up, stir crazy horse who’s been on stall rest for nearly eight weeks, these are the times that having a shoddy foundation on the ground really becomes an issue.
Granted, not every day is a disaster. Some days I get to the barn, and my mare is her usual, mild-mannered self as I lead her from one stall to the next so that I can clean her stall, refill her hay and water, ice her leg and then re-wrap it. On those days I marvel at how good she’s being despite being six and being stuck in a stall for weeks on end. But then there are other days when I walk in and she’s positively wound. She’s doing rollbacks that, despite her 16h hunter-type physique, would make any cutter proud. These are the days that when I slip the halter over her head and can feel it positively vibrating that I say a little prayer and hope I can get through the necessary steps of taking care of a stall bound horse without injury.
Yes, her stall is dirty; I had just arrived. This doesn’t depict the rearing and spooking that followed. Video by DeAnn Long Sloan.
These are the days that all I can think to myself is, “Well, you reap what you sow.”
And while her impatience in her stall may not be a direct reflection of ground manners or lack thereof, the way she behaves when I lead her from stall to stall certainly is. The fact that I have not been able to hand graze her because I don’t entirely trust her not to throw a fit and re-injure herself certainly is. The fact that her pent up energy makes me cringe and pray when it’s farrier day certainly is.
The worst part? Even though I recognize the problem, when she’s injured isn’t the time to fix it. I don’t want to risk a re-injury through the course of retraining. So, I do my best to keep her calm, minimize the chance of a blow up and look forward to what comes next.
Speaking of what comes next, I know what my homework is. The second we get the all-clear from the vet, it’s back to Kindergarten for my horse and for me. Groundwork 101, here we come.
Some of my reading material:
In the mean time, I am reading, I am watching videos, I am working on a plan. I want to fix where I went wrong and I want to make sure I remember it for the future so I don’t repeat my mistakes.