Just Lady and Me
By Betsy Kelleher
Rocky has a new owner. I watched the trailer pull away and I cried. I will miss my beautiful horse, but I feel in my heart that his new owner will love him and take good care of him. I don’t have time or energy anymore for two horses.
Now, I have only Lady. For the first time in ten years, I am a one-horse owner. I love it! My husband volunteered to clean her stall while I ride, and I couldn’t imagine a better arrangement! He gets some exercise and I have more time and energy for Lady! The day after Rocky left, I rode. There were water puddles everywhere from a recent rain, and I took advantage of them as a training activity. She walked through them all, even the ditch half full of water.
I haven’t ridden much for the past five months, and I felt as though Lady and I were starting a new chapter in our lives. For two weeks, I rode at least five days out of seven. Warmer weather helped, but I think having only one horse was the turning point. I was finally eager to get back in the saddle! Lady is out of condition and a little bit rounder than I’d like, so I haven’t asked for anything strenuous. Even so, after two weeks, she started to walk the other way when I opened the paddock gate.
I did grooming and groundwork a few days instead of riding, along with some time for eating green grass almost every day outside her paddock. She had been rubbing her tail and it was totally ruined, so I have washed it twice with an iodine shampoo. I have brushed her and hosed her off and washed her face. I’ve clipped her bridle path and her long fetlock hair. Lady had a Spring Makeover! Now I feel good when I look at her.
For more than a year, I have battled thrush deep within one frog and I’m determined now to get serious about making it healthy again. I like the Keratex frog disinfectant to get down into the cracks, and a white powder treatment, NoThrush has been amazing. I also like Su-per Hoof Dressing by Gateway Products, a black oil that softens and protects and is easy to apply. And I’m not getting paid to recommend any of these products!
I think I know Lady pretty well. I know what scares her and I know what she accepts. Sometimes she amazes me. On a rainy day, we played with a dozen empty milk jugs in the indoor arena. I lined them up in two rows and rode her between them and around them, and then asked her to walk through them from the side. She had to knock a few out of her way but she didn’t hesitate.
Another day, I tied all twelve jugs together loosely with a piece of twine. As I led Lady to the indoor arena, I held the jugs in my other hand and jiggled them carefully as I walked. Then I made them as noisy as I could, and she looked at me once and that was it. I touched her with the jugs and she didn’t move. I laid them carefully over her back, and we walked on. They fell off. She didn’t spook. I picked them up and tossed them over her back several times and we walked around. I must admit that her quiet acceptance of the noisy jugs was better than I expected. But Lady has learned to trust me.
Someone reminded me how horses fear umbrellas. So I reached in our car trunk for my handy little telescoping umbrella and took it with me into Lady’s paddock one day. I let her look at it, smell it, and then I touched her all over with it while it was in its smallest form. No problem. Gradually, I opened it up, a little at a time, and walked around Lady at a safe distance. I closed it up again, took Lady by a lead rope and walked her around as I opened my umbrella and held it low over my head. Step by careful step, I got to the point where I could open the umbrella and hold it higher over my head while she was on the lead rope beside me. Again I see the results of Lady’s trust. Without that, I couldn’t get this far. And I did a little at a time, a few minutes one morning and a few minutes later in the day, taking care not to go too far too soon.
If anyone tries this at home, please take your time and watch your horse for signs of panic. Don’t get too close at first. I gave Lady a flake of hay in her paddock and while she ate, I just stood nearby with the open umbrella or walked around her at a safe distance. If I took a step too close to her, she left her hay. So I would back away until she came back to eat. The approach and retreat technique really works. But you have to be able to read your horse to know when to approach and when to retreat. Do not push this, or you’ll just end up scaring your horse more than desensitizing him or her. Do not break the horse’s trust in you.
This is my year to simply enjoy a horse and to expand Lady’s comfort zone. She is not as confident riding out alone as I would like her to be, especially on a road where we might encounter a noisy dump truck or a tractor. Lady is ok with cars and pick-ups, but anything bigger and louder that comes toward her will probably get a reaction that I’d rather not have to deal with!
I’m a cautious rider and since Lady feels uncertain going out alone, I started with a short ride and I’ve asked her to go just a little further each day, just like I did last year. We have finally ventured all the way down the trail and into the woods, and I even went further than planned once because she seemed calm enough, though not totally eager. She went where I asked and stood still when I asked. I was happy. One day Lady and I enjoyed the lead as two barn buddies rode with us. With other horses behind her, Lady does better, and we went all through the woods before coming back to the trail.
I have ridden Lady down the road a short distance, but I actually prefer riding in the woods. She accepts being ridden alone better when she can eat a bite of grass here and there. I have never allowed her to eat unless I stop her and tell her she can. I know I have to be careful not to start a bad habit. But I see how eagerly she now heads for the woods, and I am sure she remembers a lovely patch of delicious grass very near the entrance to the wooded trail—where I stop her for five minutes before going into the woods. Enjoying a few bites of grass does seem to relax her and make her enjoy going where I want her to go! Am I being sneaky?
While Lady eats grass, I look around at the trees now covered with fresh green leaves, and the honeysuckle bushes in fragrant bloom. I enjoy the warm weather and the birds singing and the shade of the woods. I suddenly realize that while Lady learns to relax out here alone as she enjoys the grass, I am also learning to relax while enjoying the peaceful wooded setting. I can’t help but smile at the thought. I wonder who is training who.
We’ve all heard when God closes a door, He opens a window. I feel a comforting breeze right now from this window of opportunity that Lady and I have open before us.
(Originally published in the June 2013 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)