I'd spent a few weeks consciously trying to overcome a habit I had clung to despite not wanting to have that habit. I knew that when I got busy thinking too much, or when I felt just a little unstable, my hands had a tendency to 'dive' as I call it--heading downward toward the withers, taking the bend out of my elbows and making me slightly shift my shoulders forward and down which also affected my core and by proxy my seat. So, early in April, I decided that I must give up this habit. That I needed, no matter what was going on, to keep my hands (and by association: elbows, shoulders, core strength, center of gravity, and seat) where they belong.
In keeping those hands correct (elbows bent and shoulders back, core stretching up, and seat where it belonged), I noticed that my wandering left hand, which tended to want to take the rein across the withers at times, stayed put. It wasn't so vagabond. And when my left hand wasn't wandering, wonder of wonders, I had a better and more consistent connection on the outside rein when tracking right. This lack of connection had been a bugaboo for pretty much the whole time I've been riding The California Horse. And guess what! With a nice connection on that outside rein, our turns on the haunches became much tighter. Like half-pirouettes at the walk. Our lateral work became easier. Corners became corners again, not cheater half-20 meter-circles on the short ends of the arena. And The California Horse began to use his hindquarters more. Oh hallelujah, connection and better impulsion!
With the second six months of our (extended) lease approaching its end, The California Horse's owner contacted me. Was I still enjoying him? Was I interesting in continuing to work with him? Now that she's out of college and in the working world, she had come to the conclusion that she does not have time (or $$) for two horses and would like to talk to me about finding a more permanent situation for him.
Would I like to talk about his future? Yes. Did I have really any time to get together with her or idea of what my finances were at that moment, just a few weeks before DD1's wedding? No. Which is what I told his owner, asking if we could wait and discuss it after the wedding. She agreed that it could wait until mid-May. Our lease wasn't up until summer time anyway, so no big rush. I would keep riding him as often as I wished.
Then The California Horse got kicked. In the hind leg, above the hock. It was ugly, so ugly. But luckily, not damaging. With cold hosing, daily cleaning and goopifying (aka, antibacterial ointment slathered on thickly), plus a little Bute for it's anti-inflammatory properties, it healed well and only a few days off our riding schedule were necessary.
Thankfully just a flesh wound,
no stitches needed and no joint or tendon damage.
Then he managed to poke himself in the eye (with some hay, we think), and had a little more time off, an actual vet visit (for staining the eye to determine the extent of the damage), and more daily doctoring; this time in the form of eye ointment applied every morning and night.
Then, I had to take a break for DD1's wedding; anyone who has ever gotten married knows that the week leading up to wedding day is just hectic. But right after the wedding weekend, I was ready to ride.
And . . . The California Horse had a giant welt the size of a softball on his belly. An absolutely enormous bug bite (or perhaps bee sting?) that extended into the girth area and canceled any plans I had to ride him until the swelling went down after a few days.
By that time, K2 had a mental health crisis resulting in hospitalization and I had the pretty much round the clock care of K3 and Toad for about two weeks.
All a long five weeks or so of very little riding for me this spring. Really, I think I could count on one hand the number of times I got to ride during the month of May. I'd probably even have extra fingers left.
But never fear! June arrived and brought with it much better luck for me, and better health for The California Horse (and improved state of mind for K2) so my riding schedule is back to normal. While both of us lost some conditioning (you should hear us huff and puff at the trot), apparently we didn't slide backwards much in training, because all of our rides in June so far have been at least as good as our sessions in April. I'd even dare to say the trot connection and impulsion has been better than it was in April (our trot sessions are shorter as we build our endurance back, but of better quality). The California Horse is eager to work and seems to enjoy our rides together. I feel like I'm making the jump to the next level in my riding; like I won't be stuck at barely First Level forever.
"Are you going to stand there taking pictures or put my bridle on me?
Come on, we've got work to do!"
I would love to have another six months to a year with this horse. Right now, it feels to me like I am close to making a break into Second and with another year on The California Horse, I might actually be able to ride him to the extent of his Third Level training. It's time to sit down with his owner and see what she has in mind for his future; if another lease extension is possible or if she is wanting to sell him outright.
A lease, I can swing. Not so sure about a purchase (especially with the on again off again care of the grandkids), it would really have to depend on the price. Schoolmasters such as The California Horse are typically very salable even in their twenties (he's currently 18), but with his shivers and his enormous stature, I'm not sure how easy it would be to sell him in a few years if I were somehow able to purchase him this summer. Because as in love with this horse as I am, he is aging and I'm not in the position now--nor do I see being able in 2-5 years--to carry a giant retiree who eats a ton and also requires shoes and special care (for his shivers).