Settling In

It’s been a whirlwind few days since Oakley arrived, so forgive my absence from the blogosphere [if indeed you care.]

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A couple of hours after the big dude arrived

He arrived on Monday, having left home right on schedule and loaded up ‘like a kitten’ in the words of my trainer in Montreal. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the BF and I had tried to load our own kitten into his cat carrier the day before to bring him to my parents’ for Thanksgiving – it took us fifteen minutes and about ten treats, and we ended up having to physically stuff his furry little bum in there. Anyway.) When I arrived at the new barn a couple of hours after he did, he was ensconced in his BIG, well-bedded stall, having hoovered down hay and drunk a good amount of water. He was still a bit high and seemed pretty lonely – he could see the horses turned out outside and definitely was interested in making friends. But all in all, he stood like a brave boy while I groomed him, doctored a couple of little cuts, plied him with an apple, tried on his blankets, and generally made a fuss out of him. After turnouts had been brought in, I took him outside to eat some grass next to the outdoor ring and let him see the lay of the land, which he did with gusto. Finally, I brought him up to the main barn (he lives about 100 feet down a hill in the lower barn, which has bigger stalls) and let him hang out on the crossties there for a while; this is where we’ll be tacking up for rides as all my stuff lives in a locker up there. KPT and her boyfriend had stopped by to see Oakley, so they supervised us while I stuck him on a longe in the indoor to get a bit of juice out. He was very lonely in there – lots of screaming and Hackney-style trotting – so as soon as I got some relaxation and stretching I fed him some cookies and put him away. As I left the barn, he looked at me like hang on – you’re the only one I know here! Maybe come back?!

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“This ain’t so bad.”

Tuesday night I arrived to find him looking totally happy in his stall and with one side covered in shavings. Phew – he felt comfortable enough to nap. We moseyed up to the main barn where Oakley made many, many new friends who wanted to feed him treats and comment on how tall he is. (Side note, cheers to the non-horsey mom of one of the girls at the barn who zeroed in on all Oakley’s ‘faults’ and felt the need to ask if I had noticed them: “But why is he so skinny? Did you see this cut on his nose? Is it normal that he holds his head so high?” Sigh.) I wanted to stick him on the longe again before getting on, as I had the sneaking suspicious that he would have some opinions about going back to work, all alone in the scary arena, after his week of vacation. He did indeed demonstrate some back-humping, flailing canter transitions, once I could get him to move out of a shuffling trot, that is. Finally, under the watchful eye of our new trainer, A, I hopped on. He felt a bit volatile, still wondering where the other horses were, but as soon as I put him into trot, he basically said “Oh, this – ok” and went about his business without any shenanigans. We stayed at the end of the ring closest to the door to the barn to keep him comfortable, but he was really very good – a bit starstruck and behind the leg, but he never wanted to do anything wrong. We quit after a few minutes and told him how good he was.

Trainer A seems like he will be a good fit for us: he was calm and precise, and articulated things in a way that made a lot of sense. He zeroed in right away on our need to build muscle basically everywhere as our immediate goal. He’s asked me to longe in sidereins a couple of times a week to encourage the naturally upright Oakley to stretch his outline downward. Once he’s cleared to ride again in three weeks following a shoulder injury this summer, I’m going to have him ride Oakley once a week, at least for the first little while. Although the perfectionist in me would love to say I did all the work on my green horse myself, I definitely want to take advantage of having someone available to fix whatever problems I inevitably create, especially having been alone with Schmoodle for 90% of the time for the last eighteen months.

After our ride, I doctored Oakley’s hind pastern dermatitis, got him in his pajamas and headed back down to his stall. Note to self, leave the outside light on in the lower barn so you don’t have to awkwardly feel around in the pitch black for the lights while your big gawky horse attempts to push past you, insisting he knows exactly where he’s going, duh Mom. Ground manners: we need better ones.

Last night, I flatted him on my own and just had an awesome ride. Although he was still distracted by the prospect of so many prospective friends, so tantalizingly close on the other side of the arena door, he did his best to concentrate and he had some really good moments, even after the horse we were riding with left us ALL ALONE!! near the end of our ride. Although he still felt discombobulated sometimes, when I did manage to channel the energy correctly from front to back, he gave me an absolutely great feel in the bridle. Woo! We even got a bit of long-and-low trot work at the end. A few things that are going to need work in the next while:

  1. Sharpness off the leg. Mr. Oakley’s default response to scary/distracting things at the moment is to sloooow down. While I vastly prefer this to Schmoodle’s approach of “teleport first, ask questions later,” we’re definitely going to need to install a prompt and reliable GO button.
  2. Containing the canter. As can be expected from a green 18h horse in a medium-sized indoor arena, cantering in an organized fashion is difficult. Strength and adjustability are going to be crucial. Although he doesn’t get strong, he does alternate between rushing and breaking to trot, with short periods of balance in between. (This is intimately related to #1 obviously.)

Overall, Oakley has been quite chill for his first forty-eight hours in his new home, and I’m really happy about what a nice personality he turns out to have. I, of course, am still not entirely chill – there’s always an adjustment period as you learn the ins and outs of a new barn – but I will get there.

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“I think I might like it here!”

For our next installment: tackling Oakley’s hind leg gunk, and the organizational nightmare that is my new locker…

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