Climbing the walls


Photo © 2021 Sasha Hoffman ~ edited with Prisma app

Chapter 7


On a Thursday, Jamie contacted me to let me know that Raven had been very agitated, pacing back and forth in her pen. It sounded like something was wrong. I went through the normal checklist that horse owners think of when their horse is acting strange: Was she eating and drinking? Was she acting colicky? Was she acting lonely for other horses and calling out to them?

Side note: Colic is a general term for equine digestive problems that could range from a small intestinal block to a twisted gut and euthanasia. We do not joke about colic.

Well, it turns out that Raven couldn’t see the mares in the field across from her pen and was very concerned about it. Horses are herd animals and need the social interaction that goes with being part of one; it’s as essential to them as eating. She was otherwise fine, cleaning up her hay an hour after being fed and coughing less than she had been.

So, as per our new Sunday ritual, Simone and I drove up to see Raven. She still had some crusty eyes and nasal discharge, but there was no more abscess swelling at all under her jaw, and her leg had stopped draining and had scabbed over. It was clear from the moment we walked up to her that she had a lot of pent-up energy and was ready to bust out of her quarantine pen; along one panel, the side that faced the mares’ field, she had worn down a rut along the rail with her constant pacing. I made a decision. She let me pick up her feet and clean them out, then I clipped a lunge line (a very long rope line) to her halter and let her fly out on the back lawn outside of her pen. She galloped around on her own, without prompting from me, and was full of that lofty, spirited movement that make Arabians so beloved. I had weighed the worries I had about her needing to blow off the energy or whether to wait until she had gained more weight, but she was in no way weak and fatigued – in fact, for a sick horse, she was quite the opposite. Raven had had enough of being confined and was making it known. I felt she needed to run, for both her mental and physical well-being.

Part of the challenge now seemed to be keeping her mind sane rather than just bringing her body back to health. After about 15 minutes of letting her run, I hand walked her to cool her down. It was also an opportunity to work on some groundwork skills – asking her to whoa, turning her with me and away from me. I could tell she was rusty and a bit pushy with her body when I led her. She had clearly had some kind of basic training done in order for her to be ridden (as shown in the video of her on the feedlot page), though how much and how long ago was information I hadn’t been given. It just looked like her training needed some refreshing. Raven would tell me what she knew and what she didn’t.

Photo © 2021 Simone Sutherland-Keller ~ edited with Prisma app

After a little groundwork, I held Raven while Simone used a wet rag to wipe the crusties from her eyes and nose, but Raven was less accommodating this time. She didn’t want to stand still for her leg to be cleaned up either. I tried to keep her still, but she was so antsy that when Jamie came up to us, I asked her if there was anything she’d like to try with her. Jamie is a natural horsemanship trainer and I trusted her experience and her philosophy on training horses. She asked Raven not to invade her space; every time she tried to crowd into her or walk away, Jamie would have her back up until she stood still and asked her to keep both eyes facing her. After several repetitions, Raven understood the connection and listened, even if just briefly, enough to allow Jamie to wipe up her leg. We sprayed some wound care spray on her leg and called it good.

The last thing we did was tie her to the side of the trailer so I could groom her a little. She hardly stood still, swinging her hindquarters back and forth, agitated and looking for the mares in the field. Eventually she did quiet for a few moments here and there, and I just talked to her and brushed her. Now that she was rapidly feeling better and showing the amount of energy and spirit that she had that day, I realized that I also needed a training refresher. I hadn’t had my own horse since my old Thoroughbred Legend years ago, and when I had acquired him, he had also been a bit pushy on the ground with me. He was an older show horse with years of training under his belt, but each horse will read the energy of his/her handler and act accordingly. I had more quiet, follower-like energy, not dominant or boss-like energy, so I had to learn to not allow Legend to drag me around. And this was after riding and working with horses for over 10 years. Horses are not robots – they are individuals with their own personalities, fears, habits, and emotions – they will react to the energy you bring them, and the energy I brought meant they felt they needed to be in charge to keep us safe. So, as with Legend but on a much higher scale, I was going to have to find a structured way to work with my new pony so that we could interact safely and have a respectful partnership. From the moment I decided to take a chance on this little mare, I knew that above all other things – my hopes to ride her on trails and eventually start endurance riding with her – I wanted a real partnership with my horse. I wanted that spiritual connection that horse lovers have all experienced, a kind of energy-charged, silent communication between the two species that actually feels like magic. So I was going to study up and take us down the path toward that elusive symbiosis. I knew this mare was going to be a good challenge in my life, but I didn’t know how much she would literally change it.

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