It rained all day on Thanksgiving. The horses were not turned out into their big paddocks, but Tonka has his in/out so at least he got to put his head outside. The barn was closed to boarders so that the staff could have most of the day off. We all had quiet Thanksgivings.
On Friday the paddocks were too muddy to turn the horses out, but the footing in the sand ring was good, so I thought I’d give Tonka some free-moving playtime before getting on. Like the rest of us, horses get stiff standing around. Now that Tonka is a teenager (almost 15), I can’t just pull him out of a stall and get on and get going. I always give him ten minutes of loose rein walking before starting any serious riding, but even that wouldn’t be enough after two days of little movement watching cold rain come down. So I took Tonka out to the sand ring to let him get the kinks out on his own terms. Tonk free-lunges around me and understands that he has permission to let loose (unlike when I’m on him when that is totally unacceptable!) He started with a slow trot, which then got bigger.
I asked Tonka to canter (he listens to the voice cue) and he obliged.
That loosened Tonka up a bit more so he threw in a few bucks. I’m happy to see that his hock joints are flexible!
The more Tonka circled around, the more exuberant his movement got. I clucked a bit to keep him moving, but when he stopped I could tell that Tonka had decided that playtime was over. I agreed, and he knew it, by my body language and how I was no longer verbally encouraging him on. Tonka trotted in to discuss what was next.
I knew exactly what Tonka was asking for. Grazing time.
Having playtime with these sort of boundaries gives Tonka emotional self-control. He can buck and romp until he’s done, at which point he can take it down a few notches and we can hang out companionably. Horses can’t (and shouldn’t be) mellow 100 percent of the time. What you want is for an electrified horse to keep a nugget of sanity in his brain, and to always be able to access that. On their own. Without you forcing it. My role is to be Tonka’s steady center – like an external chunk of that nugget that enables him to settle, no matter how exciting the world is.
After fifteen minutes of field time, I tacked him up and got on. Tonka had both the energy from the playtime and the satisfied mindset from the grazing. It was a good ride.