Category Archives: horse training journal

Mocha’s thundering again

I’m thinking that I’m getting my old horse back. While I still feel tightness in Mocha’s right shoulder, and her hips lock up a little bit, she’s also getting to be fifteen this year. Not going to get the strong young mare she was a few years ago as she finally seems to be getting over the white line, the muscle soreness, the…whatever.

But as far as she’s concerned, it’s time to get back to some real work–real in Mocha definition meaning something other than working on the rail. Even when doing all three gaits on the rail, she’s looking to start doing patterns. Problem is, between the resection over her toe (while less extreme than her original resection, still needs to avoid too much pressure and torquing from sharp turns and such) and rehabbing whatever it was she initially did to her shoulder and chest, rail work is still the best. However, girl gets grumpy if all she does is rail work, even if it’s at all three gaits. So…figuring out a balance requires thought. Especially on a day like today where she started out tense and tight to the right, but started getting fretty and fussing about extra laps at the jog. Girl was on the muscle and wanted to go. I wanted her to be a little more warmed up with that tightness I felt. We finally came to an agreement, but I knew she needed a bit more intense of a workout.

Fortunately, there’s some options. I tested her on rollbacks a few days ago, especially trotting into them and loping out. That was popular. Now I’m careful to do them in the deeper end of the arena, and today she started jumping around in anticipation on her first right to left rollback. One of her bad habits, fueled in part by eagerness and in part by too much pressure on that right shoulder/fore so that she doesn’t get set up right to push off with her right fore. So we continued on around the arena, and trotted into the rollback, me being firm about whoa, dwell, kiss, turn.

Loping three quarters of the arena, slowing down to a trot, then whoa, pause, kiss, turn, worked. It’s a slow rollback without the push of loping into the rollback, and it made her happy. We did about four of those, then moved on to other work. Small walk circles. Trotting diagonal lines across the arena, then either doing haunches or forehand turns to face another direction and diagonal. Then loping the same type of diagonal pattern, wrapping up with a big three loop serpentine at jog and then lope, two in each direction.

By this time she was well warmed up, keyed up, and ready to go when I gave her free rein for her closing hand gallop. For the first time in ages, it really was a solid hand gallop, what we call a Mocha thunder, in both directions (we do this to shake out the tension from more collected work at the end of the ride). Then we were set up so that I asked her to roar down the diagonal after we made the far turn of the arena. It’s her favorite hard run and stop line–and she eagerly went for it. She’s not done that for over a year.

Let’s just say she was a happy horse at the end of this ride. She lined out nicely on our cool out hack along the road, swinging big through her back with an even reach through her shoulders.

My horsey girl thunders again. Yay!

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Mocha’s cantering….

Mocha loped with me today. Her choice, not mine. Not a runaway, not a rebellion, just her choice to pick it up on the long side of the arena instead of a working trot. It was smooth and balanced, and she first offered it up on her sore leg. After the first two strides felt good, I just dropped to a half-seat from two-point and eased her up at the corner, walked the corner, and we trotted the next long side.

And then I turned her in the other direction to see what she’d do, and she offered it up on that lead, same thing. With that, we headed off for a short outside hack, because what else could we do from there? She’s been letting me know this week that she’s pretty fed up with walking in a straight line, or even in smaller circles, and she Wants. Real. Work.

Sulky mare. Grumpy mare.

Any changes and she drops the sulks and grumps. So yesterday, we finished off with a trot down the long sides of the arena (me in a two-point), and then we hacked out and did some work outside. She perked right up. Today, I added in some haunches and forehand turns as part of our walk work, including the smaller circle work. That got a more energetic walk out of her. She was eager to pick up the working trot, eased off nicely at the corner, and then just quietly picked up the lope. If it had been irregular or unbalanced I would have pulled her up, but it was a nice, balanced, relaxed lope. I’ve been seeing that develop on the lunge the past two weeks (I’m lunging her before riding, part of the gradual tightening of the cinch, getting her muscles warmed up since that’s part of the area affected by her muscle strain), and it’s nice to feel it again.

It’s much earlier than I *planned* to do this by at least two or three weeks. But during this particular rehab, I’m in the space where I am letting her tell me what she is ready to try. We’re pretty much in conditioning and strength-building phase, and that gives us a little more freedom to line out in a relaxed canter for a few strides instead of a trot, if that’s what feels best. One thing about Mocha is that the canter is the gait that seems to limber her most effectively, and if letting her canter means she’ll tolerate all the walk work we need to be doing, then I’m good with that. I wouldn’t do this with every horse, but with Mocha…yeah.

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A horsey update–land o’ conditioning

And so the horsey rehab continues. Mocha marched off sound from her last round with the bodyworker. Last week she got shoes on all four feet, and the farrier was pleased with the condition of her hooves–so far. But we all know the white line is sneaky, and so tonight I have a hot date with gallon bags and Gorilla tape to make enough cheapass redneck soaking bags so that I can soak all four feet without blowing out a bag due to her shoes. It’s not optimal to soak shod feet with White Lightning, but…it is what it is, and it’s doable. I got hints of the white line reappearing yesterday, so I expect I’ll see more tomorrow and should treat it ASAP.

I have been hitting those feet pretty steadily with a straight iodine flush, and I may do just that tomorrow since the temps are still going to be on the coldish side. Or not. I may just suck it up for forty minutes of keeping her mellow while her hooves soak. Fun and games.

In any case, we’re now back to conditioning. Monday was her first day under saddle in six weeks. She stepped out pretty good, with a long and forward stride like she hasn’t had in…well, ages. Feeling that under me felt like things were right again…though, really, that’s a long way off.

For one thing, she’s desperately out of shape after the last six weeks and the previous six weeks or so of being lame in her right shoulder. I’ve kept her on stall rest with only walk work, mainly to protect the integrity of her hoof wall until we could get shoes to support the hoof capsule on that white line area. We’re now beyond that, but still, a few arena laps at a working trot leaves her winded. Considering that she was doing higher level canter work easily without drawing an uneven breath a year ago, this is a big deal. I’m basically looking at rebuilding both muscle and endurance from scratch.

Which means…lots and lots of walk work, much of it in straight lines, for a highly trained horse who enjoys pattern work and exercises which make her concentrate and think. Not every horse is this way, but Mocha likes it when we do things which allow her to puzzle out a problem or else work fast. If we can do both, she’s even happier. The challenge in bringing a horse like this back into work is to keep her mind engaged without rushing the level of schooling she’s doing. It’s far too tempting to rush a horse like her along, but given that she is a middle-aged mare, it’s better to be conservative and build up wind and muscle slowly. Especially since we are doing this at the start of winter. If she could live where we have a drier climate and turnout, that would be better, but that doesn’t happen until next year.

I’m mixing up saddle schooling and long-line schooling, because some of the muscle tightness issues that brought about her lameness are tied into her cinch area. I don’t want to make her back sore, either, which means we have to spend time getting her (and to be honest, me too) reacclimated to the saddle. I’m asking her for more complex and longer work on the long lines, which allows us to execute movements which will help her rebuild flexibility and strength, only without the pressure of the saddle. We can’t do that work under saddle yet until she’s had enough time to recondition back into the saddle. I’m also riding her in the sidepull because she needs to be working long and loose, going forward with no restraint or collection. If there’s no bit in her mouth, I’m not tempted to try to fiddle around with collection. It also means that I can focus more on using seat and legs for cueing so that we can develop the light whisper of cues that we both prefer.

So right now it’s all just a matter of long, slow work and time. I’m not expecting to be ready to do more under saddle than just walk for another month, because I want to lay down a solid muscle and aerobic foundation. From past experience with this mare, I know that she needs to build strength to a certain point before I can ask her for even basic canter work. Oh, I could ask for it sooner, but the results wouldn’t be the best. Better to build the muscles and wind, and get a nice, relaxed canter rather than have the horse strain, and the only way you get that strength is by taking the time to develop it.

So it’s a long, slow slog back. That’s the way these things just happen to be.

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Horses. Summer. You’ll get no sense out of me.

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So this is happening now. Trainer/barn owner got access to a neighboring field. He had the grass cut on it, and it’s now open for hand grazing and riding. What a perfect summer setting. It’s been ages since I’ve done any field riding, and it’s excellent preparation for her move next year. Her reaction was pretty much as you see here–curious, but relaxed. I’m not comfortable loping in this field as it is, because that grass is dry enough to be dangerously slick, even if the cut stuff gets raked up.

Mocha impresses me, though. Past horses in my life, both owned and schoolies, would have been slipping. Part of this field includes a slope that, while not big, was enough to give me a feel for how she would handle downhill movement.

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After last year’s escapades on the driveway, I can confidently say it was the blacktop and not the downhill that caused the problems. She walked and jogged up and downhill without slipping. The first time jogging downhill, she wanted to thump around on her forehand but a little half-halt, raise the hand and soft squeeze, and she figured it out.

There’s enough of a slope that I can work on backing her up and down the hills, and do some light schooling on an angled surface. All good stuff for muscle development, and a nice mental break from the arena for both of us in this hot weather.

Mmm. Yes. August on horseback. Just the way I like it.

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Horse at the end of July

Today I went full Western, with curb and romal. Mocha was in the grumpy stage of her heat cycle, where she’s really on the muscle and just wants to go, not fiddle with piddly stuff. We’ve not worked in the curb and romal for about 7-8 months now, though we’ve worked with a Western Pelham (which has the same mouthpiece–basically a long shanked and short shanked version). I’ve had interesting results when we’ve come back into the curb and romal from snaffle/Pelham work but I don’t think I’ve ever had her out of the curb and romal for this long since she first started going in it.

She was very much the workmanlike horse. A bit pushy (goes with time of year and time of cycle). The best thing to do with a pushy Mocha is to bump her up to canter schooling and get precise about locations of lead changes, circles, and rate changes (canter-gallop-canter) Having the full arena again (round pen used to take up half the arena; it’s now gone) makes a huge difference in schooling. I wouldn’t be doing as much with her if we were only working half an arena. With the full arena, it’s easier to do serpentines and figure 8s without falling into tight circles and putting pressure on those hocks of hers. She’s not rushing through the changes and turns, and she’s more relaxed. Win, big time. Plus, because she’s in a mode where she wants to run and work, she’s cooperative and focused.

It didn’t take much for her to get back up to speed on neck reining but that’s to be expected because I use a lot of indirect rein. She rates a lot better at the canter-gallop-canter sequence with the curb and romal. At the end of today’s work, I asked her for a rundown and whoa, followed by back. She was *quite* enthusiastic about that (even without skid boots). Then we did some of the best dang rollbacks she’s ever done. That was enough. We went for a stroll past the Paint of Death; she watched him and flicked her ears at him but kept her head low. A strange dog (goofy golden) ran at her by the Scary Barn and she raised her head, then lowered and started to approach the dog (dog was with people). She was alert but not particularly worried. Interesting how changing out the bit just brings out that side of her personality even more than ever. Girl does seem to like her work.

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Schooling is a process….

Mocha got a four day layoff while hubby and I were off at Oregon Country Fair. When I returned on Monday, I had hopes that perhaps she would finally be over the Evil Paint Gelding stuff. No such luck. We schooled well until the very end, when Mr. Gelding moved within her range of vision. Despite having had a rather rigorous work, Miss Silly started doing her giraffe imitation. Sighing, I resumed the tight circle work up by the suspicious corner, mixing it up with lateral work.

Except–the lateral work started getting her wound up, and I could tell that Airs Above the Ground were imminent. Something else had to happen, and I decided that if Little Miss wanted to hold her head high and be snorty, then by golly, she was going to do small circles with her head high at my discretion. So every time she got wound up, up went my hands. At first we trotted, and there was an amusing moment when she tried to snort while I was driving her forward while holding her head high. She couldn’t get much of a snort off, and she got tired of being required to carry her head high very quickly, and soon we were walking around the suspicious corner with her head low.

Nonetheless, I decided that enough was enough at the moment. While Mocha’s getting back in shape, I really didn’t want to be yoinking around in tight circles like that because of the stress it puts on her hocks. Besides, if she had enough go in her to start reacting at the end of a riding session, then perhaps it was time that I set her down and we really got back to work, to keep her mind focused. So she had a day of rest, and then yesterday and today’s work, inside using snaffle with a focus on getting back into patterns at walk and trot.

Yesterday was pretty sweet. Besides warmup on the rail ending with figure 8s and flying lead changes, we also walked and trotted square figures. It didn’t take long for her to be looking for the pattern and making those sharp turns. Two laps of walk, then we schooled inside and outside bend in big figure 8s at all three gaits. More walk, then two-track at walk and trot. Walk break, then, because she had been throwing off countercanter outside whenever I shifted my weight, we schooled flying changes on the rail. She was pretty energetic and enthusiastic about that. I tried to keep the changes to every four strides with the inside lead on the short ends, but she was feeling full of herself and enjoying the movement. More walk, and then spiral in and out, once in each direction, followed by a little bit of showmanship practice. She gets annoyed by it, but I will get her to square up automatically one of these days. Finished with a shower for her, and despite the heat of the day, she wasn’t very sweaty.

Today was cooler but Mocha was clearly a little tired. Instead of flying changes on the rail, we did more schooling work on bending and yielding to the bit. She normally tends to want to tilt her nose to the right, and I had noticed yesterday that her shoulders seemed to be a bit wiggly and not-straight when in walk to the left with an inside bend, especially in two particular places in the arena. So we worked on turning not-straight with resistance to hand and leg into straight with yielding to my hand  and leg at the walk. She wasn’t thrilled about that. I had to play to find the right mix of leg and hand, as well as sit up as straight as possible. Eventually we got there–and then had to go back to ground zero to work on getting a nice canter depart from the walk while maintaining the bend. It took a lap, but we got it.

Doesn’t happen at trot or canter–just walk. We did a couple of laps of canter in each direction with me asking her for some semblance of collection, and then I let her extend down the long side of the arena heading away from the gate. Not far, but just a touch to let her relax. Then cool down on a long rein.

One of my goals in this rehab is to work on consistent yielding to the bit at all three gaits. It’s one thing that kills us in rail classes, because she doesn’t necessarily want to work under herself, and I think it’s as much a conditioning issue as it is anything else. We pretty much have everything else in good shape, but keeping and sustaining impulsion and collection is a weak spot. We’re not consistent. That falls on both of us, because the rider falls apart as much as the horse does. Ergo, circuits of the big arena where we simply work on maintaining a correct bend, on the bit softly, not behind it, and just lots of building up the strength to sustain that impulsion and collection. When we get it, the result is lovely. We just have to sustain it consistently, for more than a few strides.

Yeah. Schooling is a process, whether you’re training horses or teaching kids. It’s going to be interesting to see what comes out of this rehab. Last time I had to bring her back after an injury, we suddenly had flying changes. Maybe this time we can develop more consistency. That would be nice.

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Snorty Mocha is Snorty

So we are not yet done with the Horse Eating Paint Gelding of Death. I rode Mocha outside today, and I swear, it was like riding a young greenie again. However, since Treat Boy came along, we have pix of Mocha emulating a giraffe and pretending to be an Arab.

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Mom, something over there wants to Eat Us.

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I do recommend retreat, Mom.

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SNORT. Maybe if I snort loud enough, it will go away.

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You really want me to trot? Let me show you how high my head can get.

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Okay, maybe I’ll listen at the canter.

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Meet Evil Paint Gelding of Death, his buddy the Evil Bay Mare of Death, and their goat sidekicks. All of whom Mocha has seen frequently, except that Paint Gelding and Bay Mare come and go.

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However, eventually even fourteen-year-old mares get tired of this stuff and mellow out. A brisk session of working trot does marvels.

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So it’s been a week. But mostly Mocha.

I’ve had some sort of low-level stomach bug that leaves me incapable of doing much thinking–other than a few short writing sessions, not much on that front’s been getting done. But hey, I’ve done some pressing housework stuff, and been getting out to the barn to exercise horse, and am just kind of pressing on, pushing on through. I’m hoping the fatigue eases off after I’ve had enough time to decompress from work, get over the bug, and get fit myself. Mocha is getting into shape more quickly than I am.

Ah, Mocha. I’ve posted two big updates on Facebook, but the upshot is that The Girl is coming back into work with a vengeance. A week and a half ago, twelve trot laps (between sets of walk work focusing on bending and flexing) left her winded. Today, she roared through twenty trot laps plus six canter laps, and not only wasn’t breathing hard, but I felt like I still had enough horse to do more afterward. Granted, this was after a day’s rest, but she’s had six works in that time and she’s letting me know that she’s ready to go, go, go.

You know how some days with some horses under saddle make you feel like Alec Ramsay on the Black Stallion? Yeah. Today Mocha could have given the Black a run for his money. When the husband went to take her out of the stall, she was keyed up, ready to go, and then acted more skittery and hot-blooded in the cross-ties than her normal sensible cowhorse self. I started throwing in a couple of extra laps of trot at the beginning because she was just so much on the muscle, so edgy, so lookee-lookee at Things To Spook At. I figured she needed more time at a no-nonsense long trot, and as edgy as she felt, I wasn’t gonna two-point it. Twenty laps of posting trot and she was flying for most of it. I finally put her into a canter and she started pitching a little tantrum because I had a tight wrap on her and she wanted to run harder. Nope, one of us has to be the brains, and it was way too soon for that. But she settled down after that canter.

Then we went down the road for a short hack. She still remembered the spook from the Evil Horse-Eating Paint Gelding from Friday, so she was on her toes the whole way. But she was a good girl for the most part.

Not going to get into any pattern work until mid-July, and even then I’m going to be careful with it. But it’s pretty darn clear that horsie has made up her mind that she’s ready to get back into work, and I guess I’d better listen.

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Back to training

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So The Girl is now back to a regular shoe, which means regular conditioning and training…with mindfulness because she’s somehow managed to bruise the sole of the other forefoot. In spite of stall rest. In spite of limited work. Somehow she bruised it. Not badly, but enough for the farrier to comment on it.

But. She’s now in conditioning mode. Yesterday, I lunged her because I didn’t want her to take off running and hurt herself. I clucked her up to a trot, she automatically responded, and….halfway around the circle, you could suddenly see the realization strike–“Hey! I’M NOT WALKING! THAT SHOE’S GONE!” She tossed her head, launched into a big jump, landed, prepared to rocket off—

And I hollered out “Eaaasy, there, eaaasy now, girl.”

She settled back into a bigger trot, but there were several more incidents of head-tossing and leaping, and a little bit of loping along with a few strides of gallop. Fortunately, between her own good sense, the mild ouchiness of the sore foot, and her conditioned training responses, she never got crazy. Gotta love a good-minded horse. The mare of my youth would have been dancing all over the arena walls long before now. Sparkle never was one for being patient. I learned a lot from her, but damn, I sure wouldn’t want one like her back in my life now. I appreciate Mocha’s sense and good mind.

So today, we had a taste of conditioning time. She’s back in the English tack for early stage conditioning because it’s lighter weight than the Western tack and it’ll fit for now (I may borrow some shims from Gregg to see if I can address the one fit issue–OTOH, previous issues came along as we did higher level schooling and we can go back to Western by that point. It’s pretty clear by now that we do better working higher level stuff in Western, but I’ll save the English tack for conditioning and light hacking). I cleaned and conditioned the English boots and saddle yesterday, and stopped by Glisan Street Saddlery to buy a couple of inexpensive secondhand britches. I’m pretty happy with what I found, one pair for $20, the other for $10. Good enough for schooling even in summer, and in good enough shape to wear to a show. Plus the $20 pair were Ariat full seat britches, which I wore.

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We didn’t have any capers today, and she went for twelve full arena circuits at the trot (mixed in with walk schooling, not all at once–essentially, six circuits in each direction). I’m planning a slow build on conditioning. For one thing, I’m mostly up in the irons in two-point at the trot, off of her back until she gets into shape, so that she doesn’t get sore in either her back or her hocks. For another, as she tires at the trot, she wants to drop her head and pound around on her forehand, and That Just Can’t Happen. And for a third, what happens when she wants to drop her head and pound around on her forehand is that her hind end starts churning and stringing out behind, and no, That Just Can’t Happen. Churning and stringing out behind is what leads to her Bad Canter, which means she needs to build strength.

Luckily, I don’t think it will take much to address that issue, especially if I’m schooling her a lot in the English saddle. We did a lot of lateral work and backing work in the bareback pad at a walk to keep things somewhat in tone, so if I insist on correct working and extended trot work at two-point, then build up to posting and then sitting, she’ll be ready to canter in a few weeks.

As it were, with just that little bit of trot work, Mocha was swaggering around happily at the end of our ride. No more of that coiled frustration underneath me. No annoyed grunts and complaints. Just a happy horse with a free-swinging, relaxed back. All’s right in Mocha’s world now.

To make things better, she got to go into turnout today. I know she’s missed being in turnout due to her shoe–the wistful whicker she’d give when I’d show up at the barn when most of the other horses were turned out, with only the injured on stall rest left inside, spoke eons about her state of mind. She didn’t go out with the mare herd, just into one of the small pens (but it wasn’t small enough for safe turnout when she had the bar shoe). So she gets to amble around the pen, roll, and crop grass. Back to working life for her–and I think she heartily approves.

 

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Miss Mocha wakes up

Besides skiing this Mother’s Day, I also went to the barn and did a light ride on Miss Mocha. She nickered and was eager to get out this morning. I think she’s getting tired of the stall restriction; it sure seems like she’s a bit lower in mood when I throw on the bareback pad and we just repeat the schooling exercises and walk, walk, walk. But with that bar shoe, there’s just not a lot she can do yet.

However, on the way to the barn, we spotted an estate sale just down the road. It was right next to the tree farm with a long (about 200 yard) driveway. I figured it was a good schooling opportunity and a chance to expose Mocha to something new. She has to get used to life beyond the arena at some point and it looked pretty mellow to handle.

So after the usual schooling of circles and railroad tie walkovers and two-tracks and backing, we headed out for Estate Sale Training. About halfway down the road, a diesel truck with a rather loud muffler set-up accelerated and startled Mocha. She started to bolt, but we stopped after two strides of trot. But her head was UP, and she was on her toes with a lot of energy because she’d begun to notice the cars and foot traffic.

At the corner where we turned to go down the driveway, she was unsure about the bright white signs. Reaction to white signs and other times when she’s been like this told me that yep, that’s something to work her with. She got over her nervousness about bright white stuff but it took some time. I think I see an impending future of leftover lawn signs, especially bright white ones.

Then she whirled once to refuse to go down the driveway, because she’d never gone down it before. And there were cars. And noise. And things That Just Didn’t Belong, Mom, So Can We Leave?

However, hubby (also known as Treat Boy) was on foot with us, and he walked down with us. There was a lot of the Quarter Horse Giraffe Mode but I didn’t push her. Keep in mind I’m doing this with a bareback pad and Pelham curb. I had brakes but I didn’t want to call them in. When she wanted to stop and look, the rule was she could stop and look. But she couldn’t back up, and she couldn’t spin and bolt. If she spun, we kept on going right around to face where we started. Being the well-trained reiner she is, she listened to that cue.

It was about twenty minutes worth of schooling, a little bit of drama and anxiety, but nothing scary on my part. I never felt like she was out of control, just being a Drama Queen about a lot of strange activity in a place she’s semi-familiar with. I’m sure part of the reason for some of the drama was the fact that she’s spent five months with a bar shoe on her left fore and as a result she’s had no turnout and only light exercise at a walk. There are many, many more horses out there who would have reacted much more intensely than Mocha in such circumstances. I’ve owned one of those in the past. That horse would have ripped down the barn long before now.

At the end, she felt sufficiently energetic to try to jig and trot back to the barn. Good to feel that energy again, and know it hasn’t gone away–just suppressed at the moment.

One more month left…I hope.

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