Saturday, June 18, 2011
Some Kind of Wonderful
I knew I liked him a lot the minute I saw him. Was it love at first sight? Now that I think about it, it was probably more akin to lust. After all, he was a big beautiful black Lusitano stallion. With his thick, long black mane, his smoky dark almond shaped eyes, his cute rounded bottom and very long legs, he was very much the heartthrob.
But heartthrobs tend to be a little intimidating. The low, husky fire-breathing and occasional prancy mannerisms he displayed when I first brought him home made me wonder whether he might be a little too much horse for me. Transitioning from my trustworthy Dutch schoolmaster, Kwintus, was a challenge in itself, and to find myself in unfamiliar surroundings (I switched stables for a couple of weeks to make use of their indoor) with a rather green, very forward-going, seven-year-old Iberian stallion was a bit daunting.
As is often the case, it turns out I should have had a little more faith in myself and not worried so much. The “tumbleweeding” (running) I described in one of my earlier blogs (“Semi-Floppy”) is now almost completely resolved. The rhythm of the trot is getting better, more regular. The canter has metamorphosed in the past ten days. Initially I barely dared go into canter because it felt unbalanced and wonky and all over the place, so I only braved it in the small enclosed arena behind the stable block. And even when I did I tended to favor the left lead canter as the right lead felt particularly bizarre, with Qrac refusing to bend to the right, and instead leaning onto his inside shoulder and constantly changing to the left lead). Gradually however I got braver, he and I became more connected, more trusting of each other and things started to come together. We practiced. We practiced again. I tried cantering him on the gallop loop around the field; the left lead went fine, while yet again the right lead was pretty hairy, particularly when he decided to switch to the left lead and see how fast he could go (pretty fast!)! But he didn’t argue too much with me when I asked him to slow. He’s a good boy.
Next, I started taking him down to the big wide open arena. I worked hard, thinking things over, experimenting, and when my trainer, Marie-Valentine, came to give me a lesson I paid particular attention to all the little details she’s been telling me for years: keep my left hand more upright, sit tall, tall, taller, keep my chin up, keep my ultra-suppleness in check, watch that my lower leg doesn’t slide backwards (Qrac is so short-backed that if my leg slides out of place it’s practically behind him!). I worked extra hard, trying to think about all the little things that are so hard to think about when you’re already doing a trillion other things with every part of your body.
And one day, lo and behold, when I asked him to canter on the right lead, he curled
himself around my inside leg and struck off beautifully. We’ve capitalized on that moment, and although it still doesn’t feel as easy as the left lead, he’s definitely improving. We’re improving. And it’s so rewarding!I'm no longer only in lust, I'm in love!
My confidence and trust in him have improved so much that I regularly take him out on the trails around the property. We go alone, trotting and cantering through the fields with no problems whatsoever. The only thing that makes him antsy and mega fidgety is insects. Qrac HATES insects. He’s virtually impossible to keep calm and steady on days when the insects are bad, and, unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of hot, humid weather recently. He stomps around all bad-tempered, lifting his hind legs so high he regularly kicks my feet in the stirrups. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve spent a small fortune on an array of insect-repellents, all of which promise instant insectual eradication, but nothing seems to dissuade the horse-flies
and the mini-flies and the horrid giant buzzy things that swarm around us, taunting him into a mad, frantic high-stepping piaffy thing. I shoo them off, try to coerce him into ignoring them, but it’s beyond him. So I push him into trot, urging him into his work routine to keep his mind busy as best I can, keeping our sessions short but intense. Incidentally, Qrac is a seriously sweaty guy who easily gets foamy bum syndrome! So sweaty is he that I need to wash my saddle blankets (? In French it’s called a “chabraque” – the thing we put under the saddle) after every session! Maybe it’s a macho thing.
Speaking of macho things, Qrac is no longer quite so macho. Well, he is, for the time being, but he had his first “anti-macho” shot ten days ago, and will have the other one in about three weeks. It’s a chemical castration and is completely reversible. It works (if I’ve understood correctly) by inhibiting the production of testosterone, the effects of which last (again, if I remember correctly) about a year. He should start feeling less, well, horny, within two weeks of having had the first shot. So far I haven’t seen any dramatic changes, with my horse still under the impression he’s bringing sexy back to his little French village. Secondary reactions to the shot? He was tired the following day, and, as the vet had predicted, ran a slight fever 48 hours later. I stood him in cold water for twenty minutes and gave him some aspirin.
Seventy-hours later he was fine again and raring to go. Steph, who owns my stables, saddled up one of her horses, I got Qrac ready and we set off for our first proper trail ride up the mountain. He was perfectly behaved, apart from a short and stroppy show of manliness when we passed a field full of stout blonde beauties (semi-heavy Comptois horses, used mainly for driving). I got him past them by raising my voice, closing my legs and acting braver than I felt. How I hate that fizzy adrenaline feeling!
Why did I choose a chemical castration as opposed to the full chop-chop? Because it’s summer, because the flies are horrendous, making the healing process less straightforward. Also, this way I’ll be able to gage how losing his manhood might affect his character and the oomph in his work. As for how long it will be before he is capable of walking by the field full of stout blondes without getting all worked up, I have no idea, but just going on that ride will be a good judge of his sex-drive. I don’t plan on renewing the chemical castration (my vet says it can be done up to five times, but doesn’t recommend it beyond two or three), but will instead have him gelded once the flies are gone, probably sometime in November or December. Some people tell me it’s a pity to geld such a beautiful stallion, especially since he’s approved by the Lusitano stud book, but I’ve decided it’s the right thing to do. As cuddly and adorable as he is (he loves to have his cheeks scratched, so much that he closes his eyes and leans his nose in my free hand!), he’ll probably be easier to handle in sticky situations.
My daughter rode him the other day for the first time since she came back from
University. As you can see, he looked amazing (well, I think so), but was a bit of handful since it was noon and the flies were ridiculous, turning him into a total drama queen. Does anyone know of a highly effective fly repellent? I’m going to try adding garlic granules to add to his feed. Although they didn’t seem to make a scrap of difference to Kwintus, their effect apparently varies from one horse to another. What about cider vinegar in their feed? Has anyone tried it? I bought some, but Steph is reluctant to use it as she’s worried it’s too acidic.
Please tell me your anti-insect secrets; Qrac and I are under siege!