Friday, July 1, 2011

Out of the Saddle

My ride this past Wednesday was bittersweet.

It will be my last ride for at least two or three weeks, but probably longer than that. I had surgery yesterday to correct a hereditary bunion exacerbated by a riding injury I got when I was fourteen. My right foot has always caused me some pain, especially in the winter, due to the bunion along with the four fractures and dislocated bone on the top of my foot. I know that surgery is not going to be a cure-all since many of the issues in my foot will still be there, but I think it is a step in the right direction. The bunion has been my main source of pain over the past few years. Additionally, a bunionectomy is a very standard surgery, unlike what my podiatrist called the "hero surgery" that it would take to fix the dislocation and other issues.

So here I am, parked out on the couch with an ice pack on my ankle, thinking back to the ride I had on Wednesday night. Halo has been doing her best to teach me lately. I've been riding bareback some, and occasionally without stirrups. She's been reminding me that if I lean forward or don't drop the correct hip when I ask for the canter, she'll take the wrong lead. She's been teaching me that her ADD is mostly my ADD - if I quit focusing on her, she'll fall apart. She needs me to be there as a steady partner, with consistent cues. I have to keep breathing, keep moving with her.

On Wednesday I braided her mane and tail just for fun, and because I needed the relaxation before my surgery. I'd been getting more and more nervous throughout the day.

I may not be the braider I was ten years ago, but I don't think it's bad for someone as rusty as I am. It felt good to use my hands to create something pretty.

I took a few pictures just for the heck of it, and as a reminder of where we are right now. Maybe it is just me, but I feel like Halo has grown up a lot in the past few months. She's become stockier, and is slowly filling out. It's no wonder we ended up with an XXW saddle.

Mostly though, she's becoming more and more the horse I need her to be. When I got on Wednesday, I just threw on the bareback pad and sidepull. There wasn't much time left to ride. The sun sat low on the horizon, making her seem even more golden in the dying light. We went up to the big arena and walked around to warm up, eventually trotting some and then moving on to canter. Along one side of the arena I wove my hands through her mane and asked her for a hand gallop. She flew down the fenceline, and I could feel the wind stinging my eyes. But the best part about it was how easily she came down from it into a steady lope, and eventually into a smooth trot and then a walk. This is a horse who doesn't make me worry. I don't feel scared on her - I feel free.

Halo helps me remember that what matters is loving to ride. It isn't about blue ribbons or reaching a high level of competition. Of course I still plan to work toward doing more little open shows, and getting her over some small jumps. I'd love to do some more cow work now that she was lightly exposed to it at the SHOT clinic we did in April. All those things will make her a better horse in the long run. Despite all the different things we've worked on since I started her, what I'm most amazed by is that this is a horse I can get on bareback, with headgear that is basically no more than a halter, and gallop around with no trace of fear. Just joy. How lucky am I?

Although I can't ride for a few weeks, I still feel good. I am fortunate enough that someone was introduced to me in late May who is going to be leasing and riding Halo. I've given her free rein to work with Halo in July since I can't ride anyway. She is a thoughtful, conscientious rider who puts the horse first. I can tell from talking to her and watching her work with Halo that she truly cares about Halo's progress and is committed to making her a better horse. Sometimes I can hardly say that about myself, since I'm happy galloping around the arena bareback! Either way, Halo and I are fortunate to have her, and I'm excited to see how Halo improves over the next month while I'm completely out of commission.

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