I know. Over the top. But last night, my gaited Missouri Foxtrotter just three, almost four years out from a near death experience with laminitis did two...COUNT THEM! TWO! ... flying lead changes in a row. My lovely sorrel horsey hero DID IT! I'm still completely blown away, all circuits shot, jumping up and down ala junior high school with a squeal EXCITED!
Here's what happened. ( My creative writing professor is probably turning over in her grave at this point, but all writing skills are out the window with this one.)
We went out to play for the first time in three weeks. It was a pretty big deal for me. I've missed being with him, especially since we've worked so hard the past year and a half to get him back into "fighting" form. It's taken a thousand tiny baby steps, starting with just five minutes a day and working up to hill work and an hour and a half without him struggling. In fact, the whole idea was to NOT have him exhausted. So I've erred on the side of caution and taken it nice and easy. This time, though, it was me who had to limit my time. John timed me so I wouldn't loose track. I go into the "zone" and time flows in a different way for me, when I'm with Lucky.
I'd forgotten how much the landscape changes around here this time of year. Last time I took him OUTSIDE to play, the wildflower gardens were still blooming, packed with late season flowers. The cows were still in their field. The ponds still had lotus in them and the trees had leaves. For a horse, that's a lot of change.
He was just a bit nervous with all the differences in his landscape...lots of little thresholds...so I took it easy. We started with Friendly game, at least five minutes of it. Being a Left Brained Introvert with more whoa than go, Lucky was easy with that. Nothing like late season, cool weather grasses to give a horse something to do while his person massages him. I kept going until he was soft all over, no tension anywhere. Then I changed my energy, lifted his rope and off we went.
We played games with the barrels and cones I had set up in the yard and down the drive, taking it easy and doing whatever his energy told me he was ready for. I wanted to direct his energy, not make him go. I'd decided that my goal for the evening was to build on the deeper connections we'd made while I was in my "Yoda Stick" phase and all we could do was to stand around together in the pasture. My draw improved over those weeks. I wanted to keep that momentum going.
We managed to play all Seven Games with some Figure Eight's and Weaving in the mix. Lucky loves Weaving. It's going forward, so it makes sense to him. Figure Eight's are a bit more challenging, so I broke those down into half figure eights...stop...then the other half. It was kind of like doing a Million Transitions, but around two cones with a pause, then back around again. When I added in straight lines with transitions, that began to make sense to him, so his energy came up.
It's not easy to get Lucky's energy up. He'd just a soon cock a leg and go to sleep. Give that horse some sunshine, green grass and cool, clean water and he's done for the day. Going? Not high on his priority list. So getting him to begin to offer to walk faster and even gait was enough for me. I was going to stop there and go back to the barn. And John had told me we were at thirty minutes too.
But as we came back around the end of his shed, he decided that the grass over at the base of the propane tank looked especially nice. I thought that was fine too. We've played around that tank nearly every time we come out because it was his "big scary thing", so I wanted it to become his "nice place to rest" place. But when he leaned down to get an especially nice, crunchy bite of grass, his rope got caught on the loop of metal (John told me tanks have those so they can be carried to and dropped in to place, using those loops on either end of the top of the tank) and made this weird " KKKKklllannnnnnnngoingungungun!" noise.
Shazamm! We were off! Talk about your nano second flip from the left side to the right side of the brain. WOW! (And I do have to admit the sound was strange, probably because we'd just had it filled a few days before). He went backwards and up so fast, he was on his back legs and hopping and shaking his head to get away from the pressure. At that point I was very glad that I'd decided to work on the ground.
I ran to the side, away from his backwards hop and rear, and put some pull to his side, trying to bring his butt around and away from the tank. It worked too. All of that simulation time with John made it much easier to bring Lucky back down. Thank you Parelli's for teaching us how to do that...and thank you John for spending all of those patient hours with me as my "horse" and as my "human partner"! I was able to disengage Lucky and move him away from a totally unexpected situation (aren't they all?) safely and effectively.
But his levels of adrenalin and excitement were way up. I decided to see if I could turn the need to disengage in to a Falling Leaf pattern. He wanted to go, so we went, but in a way that was directed. First I ran away from him, moving him in big, sweeping arcs towards me. That didn't quite work the way I wanted it to. What he really needed was to be disengaged. The arcs were adding energy, not dissipating it. So as he came back towards me and went past, I leaned over and disengaged him. I had to put a bit of pressure on his head, zone one, using it like a lever to move his butt away from me. He was really moving by then! It turned into a circle, or more like a spin. We had some real energy going by this time.
I accidentally did one of those spins where I stand still and ask him to move by putting pressure on his Zone One, then his Zone Four. Cool, but he was still wired. It did get him to stop though.His head was up and he was snorting. Where was my nice, lazy Left Brain Introvert? We were going through the whole alphabet of personality changes faster than I could respond. Now what?
I wasn't sure of how to proceed, so I turned to the side and took off ALL of the pressure and tried to match my breathing to his. He snorted...I snorted. He was panting, so I was too. Wasn't hard to do. I was out of breath, just like he was. I could feel how rigid he was, so I tightened up my back and neck and matched him. I didn't move either until I heard him sigh. At first it was a ragged, broken kind of sigh. Then it lengthened out into a deeper " Whew!" kind of sigh. We were both relieved that was over!
When I turned to look at him, to run my hands down his neck (so I could feel what his muscles were like), he looked at me with his eyes still sort of buggy. I waited, using my stick and string over his back, and then my hand on his whithers. And then he just let it go. Like that, his tension was gone. That was when I realized I'd let it go too when I was rubbing his neck. He trusted me enough to follow my lead! That was an unexpected breakthrough for us, maybe because of all the "Yoda stick" time in the pasture?
My goals had changed. All I wanted to do was to get us back inside, letting the evening end on a good note. I'd watched one of the Discs about how to use Falling Leaf going away and towards to build respect and confidence, so I decided to use some nice, big, soft sweeping arcs towards the barn, then turn him and have him arc from side to side as I walked away from him backwards. He knows there's carrots in the barn waiting, so it was one of those "makes sense to me" Games for Lucky. We had a goal we were going towards.
We didn't do too many of the Falling Leaf away . He still has a tendency to want to be too close to me ( or maybe I'm putting too much pull on the line and don't know it? not sure), so after doing four of those I turned and walked away from him while he arced from one side to the other. It's a nice place to do it because there's soft hills going down to the barn. That lets us get a little hill work in too. I was half jogging backwards while Lucky came towards me, further and further out and THEN IT HAPPENED!
LUCKY DID A FLYING LEAD CHANGE TO MY RIGHT (his left) AND THEN TO MY LEFT! I had to write that in caps because that's the way I see it in my head. It was that exciting! My cross firing, pacing sometimes, gaiting sometimes, cantering on the wrong lead horse DID IT. And not only did he do two flying lead changes, but he was balanced and graceful too.
I stopped right there and cried!
You go through all kinds of inner dialogs when you have a sick or injured horse, saying things like " It's going to be OK. We can get through this. I'll love him anyway he comes, healthy or not. " And you do the work too. All of the special trims, special shoes, gentle exercises always at his pace, liniments, poultices, supplements, reiki, anything you can think of to keep yourself and him moving forward, getting better. You talk to experts, spend more money than you have, read, study, pray and wait. So, when your horse does something as wonderful and exciting as a flying lead change (and I wasn't even trying to get him to do that either!) you do what any sane, logical person would do. You cry!
Lucky went back to eating grass. It wasn't that big a deal to him. He changed leads. Happens all the time. I stood there, leaned on him, and cried. Big scary propane tank blow up, recovery from that and then BANG! He's offering to do flying lead changes in a lovely, slow, easy canter JUST LIKE THE BIG GUYS DO IT! Of course I cried. My horse wasn't just back, obviously healthy. He was a whole different horse!
I gave him extra carrots to celebrate. And I gave myself some extra, super duper 85% dark chocolate for dessert...Green and Black's, no less. I'd bought it as a gift for a friend's birthday. I'll have to buy her another bar. It was as close as I could come to champagne on a moment's notice.
My Lucky horse is back!
I am ever yours, Nancy, smiling at you through a smeary, chocolate face.