It has now been 13 weeks – aka a good three months – since I have sat on a horse. I’m pretty sure I’ve gone through the five stages of grief and have finally landed at the end: Acceptance. Unfortunately, I think Ace is somewhere between #3 Bargaining and #4 Depression.
Fortunately, he’s moved beyond the #2 Anger stage, where he undoubtedly spent a few weeks recently.
I think Ace must have thought that aliens abducted me and replaced me with a boring and significantly less demanding version when I suddenly quit riding cold turkey. We went from riding multiple days a week, constantly learning something new, and challenging his brain and body to lovey-dovey grooming sessions and walks around the indoor.
And he started acting out. He was hanging his head out his window and biting other horses who went past – as well as the dogs. And he even tried nibbling on me a few times! He didn’t chomp down, but grabbed my sleeve delicately in his front teeth and pulled as if to say “Who are you and what did you do with my mom?” When I got him out to do groundwork, he gave me his old man grumpy face with annoyed eyes, wrinkled nose, and laid back disinterested ears. Ace was undoubtedly sending me a message.
So one day I decided to get his attention.
I put him in rope halter with 15 foot lead and started working his little hiney from the ground. Instead of the correct but leisurely responses to my cues he’d been offering, I started demanding big and immediate movements. I sent him backing at a speed to rival a reiner. I sent him to the left, stopped him, and immediately sent him around to the right. He had to jump into it and trot. I got him to walk to me, petted him, and sent him back out again.
And in just a few minutes, I had a horse whose entire attention was on me. Head up, ears pointed, interested, and keeping his eyes on me. It was the Ace of old, from our early training days, to whom everything was new and thus life was always challenging.
It was like he was looking at me and saying “Oh! There you are!”
And while he still has a habit of biting the other horse and the dogs, he hasn’t done it to me again. And rather than sticking his head in a corner to pout, he’s happy to see me, and excited to get out of his stall and play.
I don’t think it’s that he really missed working hard (he’s generally a bit lazy by nature) – but I think he missed the me he had come to understand and love. I suppose it’s all about being consistent, whether it’s from the saddle or from the ground.
At 24 weeks pregnant and unable to ride, I’ve discovered that skipping barn nights comes much more easily. Perhaps I’m a little tired, or I threw out my back (like I did this week), or I’m busy getting my life and house in order before it’s taken over by a baby. I suppose it’s good preparation for both Ace and I for when the baby actually comes and my barn time is much more limited.
I’ve got less than 16 weeks until my due date, and probably a few more to recover before I can actually sit in a saddle – but the days when I can ride again are suddenly starting to feel a little closer!