One of my dear riding friends emailed me about Forrest and ended his note with, "So when are you going to break this Brumby?"
He's not the only one. Folks following this journey have asked as well as riders and non-riders. "You'll find that he'll probably be alright just to get on," advised one well-meaning gal, who had a lifetime's experience with OTTBs, "after all, they've pretty much been there, done that."
I'm as impatient as everyone else, but there are a couple of things that need to be addressed before I lead Forrest to the mounting block.
Besides introducing him to a mounting block.
To begin with, I'd like Forrest to have an un-rushed "let down" phase. He's adjusted beautifully to "The Funny Farm," as my place is known from both my former radio show and newspaper column. His daily turn out into the 10-acre field is devoid of any drama. I feel comfortable enough to lead him out and bring him in without the obligatory chain over his nose and, God Bless Aaron Racing Stables (Forrest's former owner), he was taught to cross-tie and is very relaxed as I groom and blanket him. All of this is good stuff, so let's just give him awhile longer to really feel comfortable in his new digs.
The other factors are a physical, rather than mental, concern. As beautifully put together as Forrest is, his pasterns are slightly more upright than ideal. Lisa, at Rerun.org, was good enough to have his front, racing grabs removed and replaced with plain, steel, shoes in the front and pulled the ones on the back, before sending him down to me. However, like most horses fresh from the track (Forrest last raced in November 2013) he doesn't have enough heel. I met with my farrier, Sean Gaul and we devised a plan: as Forrest has probably worn shoes since before he was two, we're going to pull the fronts and let him go barefoot for as long as it takes for him to grow a heel, and let that hoof expand for as long as Mother Nature feels necessary, to develop a good, healthy hoof and, most importantly, create correct angles to promote long-term soundness.
And finally, there's a touch of body soreness that has to be addressed. Another part of Team Forrest is Certified Animal Accupressurist and Massage Therapist, Nicole Watts, who came to work on Forrest when I noticed that while he really leans into me with the upper left side of his neck to groom, he also flinches away when I, in my lay-man's way, try to massage it. He is clearly uncomfortable. Nicole honed right in to the superficial, Brachiocephalic muscle, lying directly under the skin, found it to be tremendously tight and beneath that, she massaged deeper into the tissue, working on the Longest Capital and Atlantal muscles.
And here I was, using a rubber curry, trying to be effective.
Not surprisingly Forrest was also very tight over his croup and Nicole worked on his Gluteal muscles that lie over the pelvis, the most common area of soreness, she explained, and also very often seen in hunters/jumpers as well. Forrest let us know that Nicole had released his discomfort by licking his lips, lowering his eyelids to half mask and, er, letting it all hang out.
So it's going to be a little while before I begin longeing this horse and helping him find his rhythm and balance at walk trot and canter, in both directions before I climb aboard. But that doesn't mean he won?t be learning new things as we wait. As mentioned before, Forrest doesn't know what a mounting block is; jockeys are "jumped up" into the saddle. I've already led him into the arena and asked him to stand and wait while I simply stand on the mounting block and stroke him and lean on him. This is all important stuff! And this week, we'll go for a hand walk down my quiet street. I'd like to see how he reacts to things that have sent my other youngsters to their cellphones to call their therapists: the rusted tractor, the geese on the neighboring pond and the scariest thing of all: an opened mailbox!!