A couple of days ago I had a lesson at ten a.m. I had to ready Blake for saddling, after being taught the Way, and its order, by Robin, my teacher. But she wouldn’t be there until ten. Good. I needed to learn to do this job independently. It’s not rocket science. But it is orderly. (Keep in mind; I’m 60 inches high when I stretch.)
I felt like a meerkat trying to undress, and then saddle, a patient greyhound.
Arriving twenty-five minutes early proved far too optimistic.
I took a deep breath and entered Blake’s personal space. There he was, his enormous thoroughbred body taking up much of his stall. He stopped eating to look carefully at me, but I could tell I was welcome. He lowered his head and we canoodled. Which means I took too long to smooth and admire his face and alert ears, and those big brown, mildly curious, even bemused eyes. I tickled his whiskers; he nibbled my nose. We exchanged air. He knew why I was there. He also knew I was greener than the grass he was eating. Happily, Blake is patient and kindhearted.
First, I unbuckled his expansive blanket, which covered 80% of his big body, including half his tail. I began below his head, separating the Velcro, undoing the chest buckles and then undoing the four buckles that kept the bodywarmer in place around his belly and tail. I folded the whole fat thing three times, starting at his neck, before moving each two-foot fold toward his tail. Which meant going from one side to the other in front of him, where there were perhaps 8 inches of space between Blake’s head and his grain and water buckets. He moved close to his water bucket to sip, so, of course, my elbow dipped into it as I squeezed past.
I pushed to back him up, winning a few inches, keeping my voice easy and soft.
Finally, reaching up high near his hind end, I slowly pulled the mostly folded blanket down to me. The dangling buckles and ties wound round his hind legs as they came away. He didn’t mind a bit.
I hoisted the heavy, very bulky thing up to the curved dip of his high, barred stall gate (fashioned so he could stick his head and neck out and look around) and wedged it in. I hadn’t needed to hump it down the aisle to elsewhere, which would mean parts of it dragging through boot-deposited mud (from torrential rain the night before), horse poop and wheelbarrow-dropped straw.
There stood Blake, with nothing on.
First step: done.
I opened the gate and slipped out; it obligingly closed again (a hint I ignored). I grabbed the halter and lead rope and re-entered. He lowered his head to my waist so I could slip it on, but facing him, I kept missing his nose. (Sometimes, working with one eye is truly irritating.)
I tried again. The halter went on, but snagged his nostrils. He glanced at me, surprised; I quickly adjusted the wretched thing. But then, for fun, he raised his head just high enough so that I couldn’t slip the halter over his ears. I hopped and huffed and puffed, but, no joy.
Embarrassed, I simply asked him to lower his head. He sighed and did, bless him. I reached high over his face, manipulated his ears to ease it over both of them, and then triumphantly secured the throatlatch.
Blake nickered softly.
I chuckled, too.
For those with a sense of humor, inexperience is its own comedy.
Next, I attached the lead rope to the halter. The clock read ten.
Part two accomplished.
My wet elbow dripped.
A worker told me Robin had had to pop over to the bank, so she’d be a bit late.
Good! I had miles to go...
I got Blake out into the central aisle, barely avoiding his big body’s rush past me because the gate had thumped his rear, surprising him. I belatedly realized that the blanket’s weight on the gate was causing it to shut...I’d need to find another place for it next time. Fortunately, my feet had escaped his startled, steel-shod hooves.
Note: the next day I had the wit to ask Nancy, Robin’s daughter, to extract him. She did it beautifully, in seconds, without the benefit of a lead rope. She simply opened his gate and invited him out. He exited quietly, and then backed up to the mat to be cross-tied.
(They’d been dear friends for simply years, and knew each other’s thoughts.)
I secured him with crossties, which took time, as the clasps were the more complicated emergency release sort that I wasn’t familiar with. I’d almost have one connected, then not...The more I worked with them, though, the better I got.
Grooming was next. I found a soft brush (Sensitive Blake hates stiff ones) and polished him nicely, then brought out his saddle, pads, bridle and breastplate, and set to work.
The first larger saddle pad was easy- raise it up, place it higher than necessary, then pull it down his back a bit to ensure that his hair was smoothed. The second smaller pad lay over the first one- easy- but the saddle’s placement was a challenge, as Blake’s back was well above my head. Thumping a saddle down isn’t nice; it should be lowered gently. Try doing that on tiptoes.
I experimented with different lifting positions, He turned his head to watch as I raised and lowered that saddle, which gained a lot of weight as time passed and I got older...
There was a low, chesty rumble. Blake was amused! I had to laugh, too. Agile meerkats would do it better...
I finally settled on simply raising it as high as possible before setting it down, half on. After a brief rest, still holding it, I gradually pushed/lifted it into place. But too many adjustments had shifted the pads, which made for much switching back and forth to reset them.
But, I still had the girth to deal with. I found the proper one after conducting a search through a sea of them hanging in the tack room. (It wasn’t where I’d hung it the day before.)
After buckling it onto the saddle’s right side I moved around to his left side and reached under his belly to grab the dangling girth to buckle it into these straps. After a long, difficult struggle, where I almost had it in the first hole, then not, I pulled up hard one last time—Success!
Leverage isn’t nearly as helpful when one is too low down. And, Blake can really inflate!
Leading him around the arena quickly encourages deflation.
By now it was ten-twenty. And suddenly, Robin appeared. Noticing my weary state she had his bridle on in seconds. That job would have consumed another large slice of time.
I narrate all this to give a sense of how it is for me. I must always focus on being safe when moving around him to do these straightforward tasks with a minimum of fuss and time.
Many repetitions are required. Experience is the best teacher.
I offer one last ‘almost gotcha--- but not:’
I was seated atop Blake next to the mounting block while Robin moved a little way forward to check my stirrup lengths. Suddenly, she straightened, pointed behind me and spoke loudly.
“Get Away! NO!”
Confused, I followed her gaze. A hefty resident cat had hopped atop the mounting block and was poised to spring up onto Blake’s backside!
But, hearing Robin’s command, the pussy paused...just long enough for us to ease away.
Imagine how he, a prey animal, would have responded to a clawed cat thumping down onto his hind end!!
Situational awareness is always wise.
Here’s the good part: I’m totally at home on their horse and Robin says I ride very well! I save savoring her praise only when I’m down and out the door... and can relax.