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The Importance of Down Time

Sometimes we can all use a vacation, and as I recently learned, that can go for our horses too! Over the past few months, my mare Luna has been acting uncharacteristically grumpy and spooky. While she has always been a bit of a hot horse, I’ve always thought of her as quite predictable and generally pretty easygoing.

At first, I chalked it up to the bitter cold weather and wind that comes with our New England winters. But when a few weeks had passed and she continued to act spooky and anxious, I knew it was something more.

My vet was out to check and float Luna’s teeth, so I decided to discuss my horse’s behavior with her. I had already ruled out saddle fit (had recently been adjusted by the chiropractor and had saddle adjusted). It also didn’t seem to be related to lack of work, since sometimes she was even worse when I had ridden her the day before. I was stumped.

We decided to test her for Lyme’s Disease, which is unfortunately very common in our area. We also went ahead and tested her for Cushing’s, since she is 19 this year and a pony breed. I was relieved to find out that both of these tests came back negative, but still unsure of what to do next. My vet and I discussed using anti-inflammatories to rule out pain, as well as considering the possibility she could have gastric ulcers.

At the same time, I had a previously scheduled vacation to spend some time in Seattle, which I was really looking forward to. I debated whether or not to find someone to ride Luna while I was away (poor soul) or give her the time off. After talking to my vet, we decided to give her the break, and see if it make any difference.

I enjoyed a lovely 8 days out in Seattle, and by the time I returned, Luna had about 10 days off in total. Our first ride back was fairly unremarkable, with her behavior neither better or worse. But on our second ride, it was like I finally had my horse back again. She was focused, soft, and responsive. She wasn’t spooky or tense, and we had some really nice moments. Not wanting to jinx myself, I figured I’d see how she was the following day.

Not only was she on perfect behavior, I also rode her outside for the first time in months. As we cantered around with the sun shining above, I was so happy I could have cried. Finally, my sensible horse had returned!

As I thought about what had changed, I realized that over the past few months I have been bringing many of my frustrations to the barn. I often go ride immediately after work, and I was letting any stress during my day transfer over into my rides. On weekends, I was often rushing to squeeze in rides between other chores and activities.

Once I realized this, I knew I needed to make sure I arrive at the barn in the right frame of mind. Luna is a very sensitive mare, and for better or worse, she picks up easily on my moods. As her behavior started getting worse, I came to dread her antics and came to the barn with a negative outlook. It became crystal clear to me that Luna was simply reflecting the energy that I was bringing, and my stress was causing her to feel anxious and insecure. The great news is that this is a totally solvable problem!

Since my return, I’ve made sure to consciously choose my attitude on the drive to the barn, and put aside any worry, fear, or stress that I may have encountered during the day. Good music helps! While I can’t say I’m 100% successful in arriving worry-free, I am definitely in a better mood and focused solely on enjoying my horse by the time I arrive. And Luna certainly seems to be responding, and seems happier overall.

As horse owners, I believe we have a unique responsibility to stop and listen when they tell us something is wrong through their behavior. Although Luna had a clean bill of health from the vet, as her longtime owner, I knew something just wasn’t right. I’m so grateful that we were able to figure out the problem (me!) and that I have my sweet and fun mare back again!

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2 comments on “The Importance of Down Time
  1. Jessica says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I struggle with not becoming to competitive and pushing my horse too hard. I’ve found that I really can only ride him every other day if I’m focusing on training. However, if we try something new, I can ride more often. He still requires time off though, and I do my best to make him happy. I have to remember that my goals are not the most important thing–having a happy partner with longevity is also important! 🙂

  2. Brenda Keiner says:

    I loved is this article. I have noticed how the response of my horse is related to my attitude, and this blog post is a great reminder to stay focused on my horse’s needs above my agenda! Also, for me, when I do this my time with my horse is more relaxing for both of us!

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