Freedom’s returned to his natural state – a herd animal. Between the weather and his lameness he had several weeks where I wasn’t able to ride him and he’s been living out in the herd with his four mares. Yes, he’s the only gelding right now and he definitely likes it.
When I don’t ride him much he starts to forget where he stands in the human horse hierarchy. In the herd, he’s the alpha — he bosses those mares around and for the most part, they put up with him. But when he starts giving me the evil eye or pins his ears, I know it’s time to re-assert myself!
While he was lame, I tried to give him a massage whenever I came to the barn. I could tell that he was sore — I’m sure that resting his left hind and walking on it a bit funny strained other muscles. Although I always got some good releases, he made me work for it. He was twitchy, swishing his tail, snaking his head at me and putting on his scary face. It always makes him mad when it doesn’t work.
Normally if he’s like this, a good long ride brings back his good humor. Without it, I had to resort to some short, directed marching with the chain over his nose. Like most track horses, Freedom respects that chain. I rarely have to use it because his behavior magically improves. We worked on marching forward, halting, backing and walking on. I made him stay right with me and pay attention. He started to remember that I’m not another mare.
Re-establishing teamwork is important because it translates directly to riding. Getting back into the routine after the time off takes a few days. He’s generally spooky and hesitant whereas if I’ve been riding him regularly he trusts that if I want him to go somewhere it’s a good idea.
We had one short hack a few weeks ago where he was completely distracted by a dog toy left in the trail — it was obviously terrifying to him and he wouldn’t go near it. He snorted, whirled around and tried to retreat. I got him to stand his ground and inch forward to the point where he touched it with his nose. It must have belonged to one scary dog who had left his cooties on it because far from reassuring him, it made him worse. Eventually I had to get off and toss it off the trail before he would continue.
Times like these I wonder where my brave hunt horse has gone. With luck, he’ll re-emerge in the next few weeks!