Sunday, April 19, 2009

Message in a Bottle Rocket

Aaruba came home to In the Night Farm on a July afternoon in 2006.

The first thing he did was look for more space in which to move around. Failing that, he paced. It was the first of many signals that Aaruba would never be content to stand around.

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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Lori Skoog said... already deserve the award from Kim! I absolutely love the photo of you and Aaruba, and am glad you are taking him out to give him more purpose. You know how to keep things moderate enough to keep him safe. Aaruba wants that certain quality in his life, and you should be able to come to a compromise that is suitable to both of you. Enjoy every moment with him.

allhorsestuff said...

Aw YES! I am so glad to hear you tow went mare is like this too...unemployed she is unhappy. Sometimes, I am unable to see her for a few days...and she totally follows me around and says...we going??!!
You DO deserve this lovely award!So does Aaruba said...

I think you have the right solution to easing the rocket out of the bottle. Frequent rides of as low an intensity as he will accept. Sooner or later Aaruba will understand the new order of things, won't he? After all, we can all learn new jobs. And as long as he knows he has you solidly in his corner and he doesn't feel forgotten, it will be easier for him.
What may require patience is legging up Consolation AND teaching Aaruba his new job at the same time as you manage all your other jobs in life!

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Lori -- Thanks. It's one of my favorite photos of us. As another friend observed recently, it was taken in a moment of sheer joy. No fear for the future, only pleasure in the moment. I am trying to find that place again.

AHS -- I think I'd like your mare. :) As for patience, well, I'm further along the road to PERSISTENCE...but I'm working on patience.

Kim -- Right you are, as usual. :)

LizGoldsmith, EquineInk said...

As the owner of a horse that suffers from "Fit TB syndrome" I have some glimmer of understanding. Freedom has a huge engine and enough anxieties to make him a perpetual motion machine.

Luckily for me, he's come to enjoy the long slow hacks out with my dogs (who are small and can't keep up for long if we go too fast). It doesn't make a dent on his energy level but it does help his brain.

I know you will find a way to keep Aaruba's mind engaged and am just sorry for both of you that, at least for now, his competition career is stalled. I keep my fingers crossed that your vets will find a way to keep him comfortable and let him compete!

theliteraryhorse said...

Wonderful photos! You can see the joy. I love reading your thoughtful, (and patient, yes you DO deserve the award)searching posts about what the best path are for you and your horses to take.

Such a hard place to figure out, when the horse says GO Please...go go go go go, and you have to weigh out how much go is right for you both. Reading your blog reminds me to stay aware, thoughtful and considerate, which I appreciate tremendously.

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Thanks, Liz. Competition is probably out, despite (and because of) all efforts to keep Ruba comfortable. The AERC has very restrictive drug policies, which I think is a good thing, on the whole. The good news is that my boy clearly wants to live to the fullest. :)

Hi Jane. I've so appreciated your comments of late. Welcome to TBW -- and, nice blog you have over there! :)

manker said...

nothing like a good canter... good for heart, soul and horse... sounds like you found also your equine soulmate

happy trails