As always, working with CANTER can bring you great joys, and also indescribable sadness (the same is true of horse racing in general, really). On Saturday one other volunteer and I went to the track with a small collection of “stuff” to donate for the trainers and horses after the barn fires. I should have known what to expect, after all there were photos all over the media, but actually looking at it was a different experience entirely. And finding out one of “our” horses did pass in the fire was a little kick in the gut too.
The cleanup has been ongoing, so much of the mess was already gone, but there is just something about that empty space that hit me really hard. Of course, life goes on – the “ghetto” stabling was abuzz with activity, horses coming and going from the pool, the vet’s office, and the training track. Goats were bleating from the temporary stable, and cats and kittens were running everywhere. At the racetrack, I suppose, there’s not a lot of time to dwell on tragedy.
So we went on walkabout, going through all the barns to do listings. It turned out to be a very light day – only two horses to add. But we did get a lot of good updates – many horses sold, including one of my absolute favorites, a lovely sabino chestnut mare that had been for sale for almost a YEAR. She is now in a new home in the Carolinas, which makes me very happy. Since listings were light, we did spend a lot of time just chatting with people. I had to take one horse off the site (he will be back on, promise!) because he’s back at the farm resting, and the owner wanted to give him some time to grow and then try him again at the track before re-listing him. He said he had received calls from all over the country about the lovely gelding, and seemed pretty amazed by all the attention the horse got.
Unfortunately, we also had some conversations with trainers about tire kickers. Several people mentioned folks going through ALL the motions – setting up a vetting, promising a trailer and check would arrive, and then falling off the apparent face of the earth. One woman who has a lovely horse actually missed out on a sale because she thought a first buyer was going to come through (she had had the horse vetted, and said she would come pick up the horse the next day). Another very interested party was turned down, and then the original buyer never showed up. The second buyer found another horse to bring home before the trainer could contact her.
People, please! Please contact the trainers if you change your mind or are not interested. The courtesy of a phone call goes a VERY long way in making this program more successful. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind – it happens to everyone. Perhaps the vetting wasn’t as good as you expected, perhaps your trainer talked you out of it, or perhaps something happened and you can’t justify the purchase anymore. That’s all fine – it’s called life, and it happens. Just please, unless you are incapacitated, please call and let them know. It’s just common courtesy, and it goes a long way in making sure our program remains successful.
In other news… Mikey!
Mikey had an excellent weekend and continues to really progress. Saturday we went on a mosey with a few boarder friends, with the intention of doing some good, slow hillwork. We started out going around the fencelines of a neighboring farm, and up one of their really steep hills. Mikey only had one thing that bothered him, which was the corn feeder and salt block left out for deer. I think he’d have been fine given a minute or two to sort it out (and I’ve been by it before with him), but to keep things positive I just had Laura let someone else take the lead for a minute. Mikey both led and followed, and seems to be developing better balance and strength, so going down the hills seems easier for him than it had been (last time I had him out, going down the hills in a straight line was really hard!).
After one circuit up and down one of the other horses was acting a little gimpy – so we split up the group, a few people headed home, and the rest of us stayed out and headed back into the wood. Mikey had no problem with half the group departing 🙂 We also went around a side trail that got us headed back towards home, but then turned the opposite way (in sight of the barn) to continue our ride up through the neighboring hay fields. Partly I wanted my own horse to get exercise, but partly I wanted to also see if Mike would have any issues being “almost home” then told to turn around. Nope. He just followed us along as if nothing could make him happier than continuing on the ride.
We did have one hiccup when we tried to trot up one hill – he very clearly wanted to canter, and had a minor bit of a fit when asked to trot, but this was pretty minor, and given that the grasshoppers are out in force, hitting the horses’ bellies, and one of the other horses still with us was acting up, I’m not inclined to worry about it too much, especially as moments later he was very calmly giving us a lead back down the hill and up the driveway to the barn.
On Sunday, I made it a point to go back to ringwork to work on some of the things Allie pinpointed last week. I carried a dressage whip for backup, and did notice he seems unusually weird about the whip. A couple times just leading him out, he got very wide-eyed and flinchy if I moved it at all. So I will have to remember to make it a habit to always carry one around with me – I want him to respect it but I also don’t want him too afraid of it. If he learns it’s only used fairly then we’ll have a nice happy medium.
I got on and for the first time, he stood absolutely perfectly without me having to correct him after getting on. On the flip side, he also didn’t want to move once I asked him to, so the first application of the dressage whip happened within 15 seconds of getting on. Poor Mike.
In any case, he jumped a little then sprang into a nice forward walk. I worked for a few minutes asking him to give a slightly bigger and more powerful walk. I also worked a little on bend on several circles at the same time. After several minutes we did have a few really nice moments where I felt him stepping under himself with that inside hind, and he was not resisting my hand so much and bending reasonably well.
As we progressed into the trot, I tried to keep him busy by stepping over ground poles and a tiny crossrail (not enough to jump, just elevated poles) to help me getting him using his hind end some more. He actually really seems to enjoy this kind of thing, and he’s very willing. Once again I find myself regretting his old injury, because I think this horse would take to actual jumping like a duck to water.
We worked for about twenty more minutes, largely on going forward and moving off the leg. I don’t know if we don’t have enough forward or what, but I’m finding that while he is definitely accepting contact better, the actual stretch downwards, while relaxing and lifting through the back, is quite elusive. He’s also prone to trying to curl behind the bit, so I’m doing my level best to not reward that, kicking forward, and keeping my arms elastic. Easier said than done.
I will say that his canter felt much more balanced and improved over last time. To the right, he does have a tendency to drift inwards quite a bit, but all in all it’s a much better quality gait than it used to be, and even felt rather uphill (besides the one time he tripped).
After our ride I stretched him out a little, and did note that he is pretty uneven. I can’t say much about his legs, as he can be sort of a goober about handling his legs and feet sometimes (so it was hard to tell what was lack of flexibility vs. him being annoyed), but during carrot stretched, I found that he had a difficult time turning his head and neck to the left. To the right, he was almost a rubber band, and reached as far back as my horse can (this trick has earned him the “equine gumby” award from his massage therapist). As I hadn’t really done a lot of this with Mikey before, I wasn’t really expecting it, but I’ll be continuing his stretches and also asking during our lesson on Wednesday how to work on this while riding.