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Going back to basics

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It’s been a rough couple of months with Talo.

Strangles has been raging through the barn, and due to lackluster measures, Talo has caught it, too. It was pretty terrible. He had high fever and lost his appetite for a few days. I was so worried about him! Talo, the horse that lives to eat, wouldn’t touch his food. At first, he didn’t want the feed. Then he started shying away from the alfalfa cubes, and then he basically stopped eating. The only thing he would touch was carrots and some very basic feed I got from a nearby supplier. After a few dreadful days like that, I found a pellet of rough alfalfa hay in the storage area. No one was using it, I think it might have been delivered by mistake and was just left there. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try, since Talo loves alfalfa in plant form, and thankfully he started eating when I gave it to him! He only ate this for a few days, but that was a wonderful change.

Then came the snot. So. Much. Snot. Rivers of fucking snot from the abscesses that burst. Weeks of snot! I cleaned him as best as I could, but honestly it was useless as a knitted condom. The snot just flowed freely out of his nose, and it was EVERYWHERE – from the floor to his water bucket.

Gradually, things got better. Talo got his appetite back, the fever broke and the snot was less present. I started him with very light work. Our section of the barn was only allowed to use the round pen, because we had a lot of sick horses, so that’s where we worked. At first, it was just short lunges, just walking and stuff, and then we progressed to some light riding. Since we were inside the round pen, I thought it would be nice to experiment. For the first time ever with Talo, I tried riding with a halter (instead of the regular riding bridle).

To my utter amazement, Talo was super attentive and sweet, and we had a few wonderful rides – no bridle, no saddle, no problem!

After a while we were allowed to go back to the regular arena. We had a few nice rides, and then… I don’t know. Things got very dramatic. Talo has always had issues standing still near the mounting ladder, but I worked with him on it, and he was much better. Not perfect, but pretty good. After he recovered, though, things went from bad to terrible. It didn’t matter where I tried to mount – he kept walking off and cantering off. I had to do an emergency dismount (not a dismount, really, because I didn’t even manage to sit in the saddle and had one leg in the stirrup), Talo ran away from me and ran loose in the arena a few times and he also broke his bridle. As I said – all very dramatic.

I tried what had worked in the past, but Talo refused to calm down and I was losing confidence and patience. I was anxious and afraid to mount him. I didn’t give up, but every time it got harder and longer, and it got to the point where I was seriously considering just letting him go. My rationale was that he’s just had enough. He’s 21.5, worked all of his life, and just doesn’t want to do that anymore.

I decided to give it another go, though, with a professional trainer. I know I am lacking a lot in the horsemanship department, so I was eager to learn. He brought a western saddle with him, and it was incredible! Talo seemed to like it, and it made mounting a lot easier and safer. After a long session, I also rode Talo for a short while, in the western saddle, and he responded super-well to everything I asked him to do. It was great.

I can’t say it’s been all peaches and cream since then. I tried riding twice since then, and mounting was far from perfect. Last Saturday was, again, very dramatic and annoying, with Talo resisting all my mounting attempts, while spinning in place like a maniac. I finally mounted from the right side (as suggested by the trainer), but we were both very tired and upset by the end of that day. Talo was also slightly off by the next day, likely due to his crazy spinning.

And then came a rainstorm, that lasted 3 days thus far (pretty rare in Israel). So, no riding. I managed to do some much-needed ground work with Talo, and he got slightly better during those days – more attentive and respectful.

Today was also rainy, but the second the rain stopped, I put a saddle on Talo. I just wanted to practice mounting, and didn’t care how much time we had – 5 or 10 minutes, before the rain starts again – just wanted to sit in the saddle and see what’s up.

No luck :). The rain started even before I put the helmet on. So we were stuck inside the barn. Since Talo was all tacked up anyway, I thought I’ll give it a go INSIDE. I didn’t plan to actually get on, just work on lateral flexion and maybe put my leg in the stirrup a few times. I worked with him, nice and slow and calm, lot of pats and sugar cubes, and gradually started getting my foot in the stirrup. I felt him resisting when I flexed him and tried to put weight in the stirrup, so I decided to try it without the flex. And slowly, I managed to put more weight, lean on him and finally – swing my leg and get on! AND HE STOOD PERFECTLY STILL!!! I was so happy! We had nowhere to go, because of the rain, but that was perfect. We just stood there. A bit of flexing. Not doing much. Just being calm and quite. It was a wonderful feeling.

Afterwards I took him out for a short stroll (the rain finally stopped for a while), and he was more attentive than usual, and also very brave when we encountered the tractor 3-4 times.

It was a good day, all in all. I realize we are far from solving the issue, but it was PROGRESS. The weather should be getting better, so we’ll see what the rest of the week looks like. I just hope things continue in this manner. It’s a challenge, but it also gives my an opportunity to learn new things and bond with Talo. Hopefully, we’ll put aside the drama and move on to better things.

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