Monday, October 4, 2010

Fool Me Once

Knowing that the good riding weather opportunities can slam shut at any given moment I spent the whole weekend riding. There was a mountain of laundry that needed washing and folded, pans to scour and vacuuming to do, but it could all wait. Weekends like this weren’t meant to be spent doing household chores. The weather was absolutely perfect and the pull of an autumn ride was tugging at me.
Maggie is finally well enough after her cold she has been battling. Since mid to Late August, she was suffering from a cough/ sneeze/snotty nose thing that just kept lingering. It never got real bad, she never spiked a temp but was lethargic and not her usual spirited self. The symptoms ebbed and flowed. She would be coughing a lot one day and the next day nothing. My vet wanted me to wait it out as these things usually take time to work through, as long as she never got any worse. For 5 weeks, I waited it. She was improving bit by bit, but still, every time she did more than a walk, the coughing fits would start. I finally decided to put her on antibiotics and within 4 days, she was already showing improvement. We are now back in business.
Saturday, I loaded Maggie up and we headed out for a ride. We’d be going it alone today, and I was actually looking forward to being on my own schedule. It was a hellacious week at work and this was a good way to put it all behind me. The sun was shining and the sky was that deep bright blue I have only ever witnessed this time of year in Montana. The trees were brilliantly lit up with the red, yellows, oranges of fall. They looked like they were glowing from within. The plan was an easy ride, maybe 6-7 miles of walking. Much of it would be hills, which is somewhat unavoidable at Herron Park. We’d take it slow. I suspected that Maggie had lost a fair amount of conditioning in the last several weeks. I took my time getting ready, enjoying the sun on my face. Herron Park was buzzing with people. Maggie was taking all the sights and sounds in. We headed out just in front of a few other riders . Maggie is still unsure about heading out alone. In time, with each new experience, she’ll gain confidence and march out onto the trail with purpose in her stride. For now, it’s often a difficult start, filled with hesitant steps, a moment to look back over her shoulder, to see if anyone else is with us, an occasional call to see if anyone will answer. But she does go on, responding to my words of encouragement and soft strokes to her neck. In time, I hope she’ll look towards me for guidance and reassurance when she isn’t sure of something. In time, I hope I can show her I am worthy of her trust.
With Maggie, this is all new to me. By the time I started riding JB, we already had a strong foundation together. Having brought him out of the wild, and gentled him over the course of many years, the trust was well established by the time I ever climbed in the saddle. With Maggie, we are still getting to know each other. We passed a few hikers and dog walkers along the way without any incident. So far so good, no cough, no sneezing. After about 2.5 miles, I noticed Maggie was beginning to sweat quite a bit and breathing fairly heavy . Her winter coat is already about half grown in and given the temps were already approaching the upper 70’s, I wasn’t surprised when she decided to take a break and catch her breath. We rested there for a few minutes, I gave her carrot snack and then carried on. Pretty soon, she stopped again. It was a bit of a long gradual uphill section of trail so I let her take another break. This went on a couple more times. After the fourth time of her doing this however, in a short distance, I started to become a bit concerned that something was amiss. After the last rest, she refused to go forward. When I nudged her sides with my legs, she pinned her ears, swished her tail and tried to cow kick my stirrup.
Uh-oh..I thought… could she be tying up?? How could that be? She isn’t on any grain other than handful of beet pulp morning and night , enough to mix her vitamins in.
I jumped off and felt her hind quarters. No tightness or spasms. She wasn’t standing funny and she didn’t look like she was in any distress. She just didn’t want to go any further.
Could it be she’s just a bit overheated?
I decided I had better play it safe. I turned her around and hand walked her for about a ½ mile. She willingly walked along just fine. Everything seemed fine. I decided to get back on and see how she did. We rode all the way back in to the “park” area of Herron Park without incident. In fact, she walked out so nicely I was really pleased with her. She even offered to pick up a trot a time or two (towards other horses of course) .
At this point; I figured if she were tying up, she definitely would not be this willing to move. I took her back to the trailer, unsaddled her and hosed her down. Normally she dislikes the hose, but this time, she just stood there and seemed to be enjoying the cool water. I thought my suspicions about getting overheated were confirmed. I supposed getting a bit too warm, combined with her lung capacity taking a toll from her cold, maybe she just wasn’t feeling great. I was glad I made the decision to listen to her and turn back. She hung out at the trailer to dry off and happily munched her hay with some hay while I visited with some people I knew who happened to be riding there as well. She seemed to be acting normal so we loaded up and headed home. Upon getting turned back out, she rolled, and frolicked and acted healthy as a horse, which I was relieved to see.

Sunday was cooler but still nice out. I decided I would take her back to Herron Park again and see how she did. Once again, we headed out, but took a different trail this time. There were fewer distractions around and she seemed more willing to focus on getting down the trail. We were on the flats and she offered to pick up a trot. We trotted along for a good mile before she wanted to stop. I could tell she was breathing quite a bit heavier than what was normal for her. Her stamina had definitely suffered with her cold. I suppose it’s just like when a person gets ill; it takes a while to get back to yourself physically. We headed up another loop trail and had to do a bit of climbing. About half way up the hill, Maggie stopped again. This time, I was less concerned about any other issues creeping up. She wasn’t sweating but I would just let her take her time. No sense over doing it. We rested, then we went on our way. Pretty soon, she stopped again. I took advantage of the stop to take off my sweatshirt and tied it on my saddle. In the process, I gave her a carrot from my packs. I climbed back on and asked her to move off. She did, but with a little hesitation and swish of her tail. Another few minutes, she stopped again. "Hmmm.. This again?"I thought.
Had I really managed to unintentionally taught her in one ride that if she keeps stopping, we’ll turn around and go back?? I encouraged her forward with my legs and she tried to cow kick me again. I asked a bit stronger, only to be greeted by her turning her head back over her shoulder to give a pinned ear mare look and another attempt at a cow kick. It’s her signature move and she usually manages to catch the bottom of my heel. (Something I know I will have to address at some point, but not this day!)
At this point, I knew my next attempt might become a bit of a battle of wills and I wanted to be prepared; or as prepared as I reasonably could. .I attached my GPS to my saddle packs so it wouldn’t go flying out of my hand. . In the process of me fiddling around, I noticed her ears suddenly perked up at the rustling of the packs and she looked at me over her shoulder as if to say…”Snack???” Talk about an Aha moment… I realized what the issue was…at least part of it anyways.
She had managed to figure out that when she stops, she often gets a carrot snack. She wasn’t getting a snack and that was why she was getting pissy and would keep trying to stop, both days. She wasn't feeling bad the day before, she wanted a carrot.. UGGH …How could I have been so dumb??? So, what else is there to do but to correct the problem I had created.
I asked her forward, with no offer of a snack. She refused, I asked with a bit more insistence with my legs and a strong verbal cue of “forward”. She shook her head, pinned her ears and half crow hopped a few steps.. ah yes, the Maggie snit fit… I asked again, this time with a stronger bump, bump with each heel. She went forward, in a sideways kind of motion and finished with a large leap crow hop forward.
"Your getting closer"….
I asked again, only softer this time, she took a step.. shaking her head in frustration. Again, a nudge, and a step. " Now you've got the right idea!"
Another squeeze, and finally she took three or four steps forward. Not happy, but forward. I'll take it...It was a place to start.
We carried on this way and went through this a couple more times before she decided she wasn’t going to get that carrot and we weren’t going to turn around and go back either.

Fool me once, but not twice... All in all, we made it 8 miles on Sunday and worked through those issues. Maggie is feeling fine. It will take her some time to get her stamina back to what it was but that will come in time. We got back to the trailer and I gave her a hay bag. I don’t know if I will continue to carry snacks with us anymore, at least not for a while. I learned a valuable lesson. I have a mare who is way smarter than I gave her credit for.

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