Back In The Saddle
The barn finally re-opened after close to two month's closure due to Covid 19. We're each allowed out to see our horses for two hours a day. It seemed wise to do some reconnecting with Dorian before jumping on his back and heading out to the trials.
He was a muddy mess when I went to the pasture to retrieve him. So, into the wash stall to work on those huge, hard mud clumps--me with my metal shedder. Dorian shuddered and put his ears back as I worked on his coat.
Looking back, I could have been so much more kind. I could have ignored how clumpy he looked and just enjoyed being with him. Instead I scraped and picked at the hard mud. Because he's a Thoroughbred, Dorian has thin skin that's highly sensitive. He literally flinches when a fly lands on him. My "ministrations" after weeks away from him was not the kindest re-introduction.
And so--as usual--my lesson began.
Dorian is 1200 pounds and certainly did not have to put up with me. Which speaks to his sweet nature. Instead of biting or kicking me, he stood there sweetly (sort of), and let me drag the metal across his hind quarters . . .
I did finally wake up, realizing that Dorian had navigated last fall and winter's injury and rehab with such patience, willingness, and good humor. He endured pain, being moved from stall to stall, restricted outings . . . he met all the impositions imposed on him with grace.
Had I navigated the virus shut-down with even a smidgen of his poise?
And then having me absent for weeks on end--what must he have thought? Yet every picture and report of him over those weeks showed him content, playing with Simon, grazing quietly in his pasture.
Did I pass the time absent from him with equal composure?
Dorian is so good at rolling with the punches, happy to be himself and make the most of it no matter what comes his way. Even on the racetrack that was true, from the stories I've been told. He's a splendid model for me. I strive to be as willing as he is to embrace the good that's present.
So yes, I finally realized that cleaning him up shouldn't be my highest priority--wasn't just being together the whole point?
So into the round pen we went and I gave him a 45 minute massage. That was the reconnection we needed. He turned his big head into my palm and licked and nuzzled, loving the softening work I did on his body, so different from the harsh metal scraping done just minutes before.
My hands grew warm as I moved over his body, and at the end, as I usually do, I lay my forehead on his and just took some deep breaths with him as he literally fell asleep.
The next few days were spent with me pulling Dorian out of his pasture, while Simon stood pining at the gate.
We did a lot of ground work, and I was amazed at how wonderful Dorian looks--he's not been in this sort of shape in several years. I trotted and cantered him on the ground, moved his hind quarters, walked beside him off lead and he followed . . . He loved it. He likes to be active and loves having a job to do. Racehorse days, I think.
The second day out, I gave Dorian a bath and trimmed his mane. Then I plopped on a saddle and decided we'd do some riding in the indoor arena.
Well, that was not happening. Dorian absolutely refused to go near the indoor arena. I'm not sure if he doesn't like it because it's confining or because he spent the entire winter in there doing rehab work.
Whatever the reason, he backed up, or froze in place when I asked him to move forward--nothing I did encouraged him enough to even go near the indoor entrance.
It's not a good idea to let Dorian refuse my wishes. He definitely has his opinion on most things, but generally will comply when he sees I really mean what I say. Not this time. I thought he was going to buck me off in a moment, so I stopped urging him forward, and turned around to the smaller outdoor arena.
He was perfectly happy to work there, so we trotted and cantered around, changed direction, and so on--just getting him used to being under saddle again. And me getting used to being back in it.
The lesson? Well, they were many. And they included compromise. I'd gotten so caught up in making things "perfect"--which amounted to being pretty hard on him just to make him "look nice" that I'd lost sight of what was really important. Connection. Relationship. Being together rather than accomplishing something.
I'm happy I turned the corner quickly. For me, being with Dorian involves give and take, respect for who he is and what he needs. It's about listening to him and appreciating his wisdom. It's so much sweeter to appreciate and work with him than try to control him--which never works anyway!
So, as I venture out into my larger world again, I'm going to try to listen first, be patient first, and take steps forward with some amount of gratefulness and in a respectful way. I'm going to try my best not to presuppose or judge. Just take it one step at a time. That seems the kindest--and the fastest way--to get back in the saddle again.