After seven months of 24-hour turnout spent grazing on grass, snoozing in the sun, and frolicking in the snow with the other horses, it was time to bring Jaliska back to work. I started by hand-walking her up and down the pasture run, which is a half-mile stretch of property abutting the fields; this allows the horses access to the multiple fields and turnout sheds. The run is very hilly, with some steep slopes, terrain I’ve been told is really good for building up a horse’s back and legs. It certainly worked for mine.
An unexpected problem was that Jaliska had become quite herd-bound over the winter and would throw an absolute fit (rearing, prancing and dragging me about) when separated from the other horses. So I grabbed Belle, the mellower of her pasture-mates, to help settle Jaliska and proceeded to walk them together, one on either side, up and down the run.
Now this still was no picnic, given I was taking them to a different area of the farm than they had been all winter. Their excitement led to a few “slip and slides” with the wet and icy spring conditions. One such incident landed me squarely in a cold, muddy manure pile section of the run. Ugh! This business is not for the delicate or faint of heart.
So on it went, back and forth, up and down, day after day, week after week, walking the pasture run. I increased round trips every three or four days until we were up to eight. By then the warmth of the late spring sun had melted all the snow and the footing was dry. Gratefully, after the first few weeks, Jaliska got comfortable with the routine and let me take her on her own, making life so much easier. I would use this time to chant over and over in a military like cadence, “We are 100% healthy, skilled athletes” – until I could barely speak. She seemed to like it.
The time had come to move up to long-lining, a training method to get her to use her back without me sitting on it. I called upon my friend Olivia to help teach me long-lining basics of walk/trot. We did this for a month, three times a week in between our “pasture-run” walks.
The time had arrived to start riding her. This came with its own challenge, as we’d found out that the custom saddle I had made for her was too small. Not wanting anything to impact her back, I searched and searched for other saddles to no avail.
My barn manager suggested I try one of Fred’s old Stubben saddles, and it fit her perfectly, despite being more than 25 years old and missing the padding. Although not the most comfortable fit for me, I was thankful to have a short-term solution. Fred generously lent it to me, and we were able to walk the ring and trails. Walking soon turned into trotting and then cantering.
At this point, I recognized that it was time to turn her over to the care and training of a pro who could take her to the next level. I told a friend that I would really like to learn proper flat technique and she referred me to Katie Robicheaux of Cutler Farm, which is one of the top dressage barns in the country and home to Olympic reservist Heather Blitz. It was a mere ten minutes from the farm.
I rang Katie and her husband, Vincent Bailleul, a French and European trained jumper trainer. I turned Jaliska over to Vincent and I trained with Katie on Riley, one of the barn horses. It could not have worked out better. Being so close, Vincent would drive over and ride Jaliska at Fred’s place and I would meet with Katie every morning to train at Cutler.
After six weeks under Vincent’s competent care, the vet declared Jaliska 100% healthy. My prayers were answered.
Learn what we’re up to now in my next post.