The key to successfully rehabilitating a horse after a leg injury is slow, steady work in walk on a hard surface, initially in-hand, gradually increasing the duration of the exercise to give the horse’s body time to rebuild muscle and stamina. Then, when the horse is strong enough to go back to work under saddle, yet more walking is required before moving on to faster work. So recently, Cassie and I have been clocking up the miles. There are lots of very quiet country roads around here that are perfect for walking. I thought the rehabilitation would just be a matter of taking her for a daily walk, weather permitting, but it hasn’t been quite that simple.
Cassie had about 6 months off after she got kicked. During that time I left her alone in the sense that I didn’t do any work with her as her leg needed to heal. So Cassie has been free to roam around and do as she pleased and I mostly spent time with her in her world. If the weather was nice I would bring her along for a walk, but those expeditions were more like buffet lunches than exercise; we would stroll along at a leisurely pace while Cassie happily browsed in hedgerows and road-verges for interesting bits to eat. Enjoyable and companionable, but not very active. When walking changed from this carefree experience into an activity with an agenda, it was a bit of a shock to the system. For both of us.
When we first started our walks I would decide how far we would walk, we would take a break at the turning point so Cassie could graze a bit, and then we would walk back home at a steady pace again. I expected Cassie to walk along with me and to begin with when I moved off with energy Cassie stayed beside me, but not for long. As soon as she realised that I was ignoring her hints that this was a nice spot for a pick of something, she dug her heels in and gave me a reproachful look. ‘Where do you think you’re going?!’
My husband and I both enjoy walking. When the children were young we would bring them along and at first our walks were short and slow. As they grew older, we went further afield and dragged them up hills and mountains. They are teenagers now and they don’t come with us anymore, but there was a time when they didn’t want to come, but had to, because they were too young to be left on their own at home. That went something like this:
‘Come on kids, we’re going!’
‘Where are we going?’
We’re going for a walk.
A walk to where?
Nowhere, we’re just going for a walk…’
Anyway, things would deteriorate from there. Our kids were willing to come for a walk, as long as there was a clearly defined destination with a purpose. So if we were going to walk to a castle, with tea-rooms offering hot chocolate and scones, they would have their jackets on before you could turn around, but ‘just going for a walk’ was clearly no deal.
Cassie more or less took the same view. She soon decided she didn’t enjoy the new kind of walking and she began to suck back. Cassie doesn’t tolerate any form of pressure on her head, so giving a tug on the lead rope is out of the question and that meant I had to take a step back to move her on again, which very quickly became an annoying pattern. I think it irritated Cassie as much as me, and her solution was to step back too as I stepped towards her to urge her on. Check! The next time she sucked back, I walked to the other side of the road, a matter of only a couple of steps, but it was enough to throw her off and she walked on again, until she figured out she could sneak in behind me when I crossed the road. She had other tricks. She tried spooking. Snatching at vegetation. Stopping to count the cows in the fields. Taking the same route more than twice in a row was also a mistake.
Cassie is constantly testing me and challenging me to be creative and make the walk interesting. It took me quite a while to work out that the amount of energy in my body made very little difference, it was my focus that mattered. When I go for a walk myself, I walk with lots of energy, but I have a tendency to withdraw my focus inward. With Cassie, I have to be aware, clear and purposeful. It is not a walk, it’s a game.