The Effect Of Currying On Horse-Rider Relationships
|This is where the magic happens.|
I spend close to 40 minutes (sometimes more) every day grooming Dino before I ride him.
I pick his feet, give him a good hard curry (with multiple different tools if it's shedding season!), brush firmly all over with a stiff brush, sweep away dust with soft body brushes, and wipe his coat down with a damp rag. I brush his mane, spray detangler on his tail, and doctor any cuts or bite marks. (Sully, I'm looking at you.) Before I even think about setting a saddle on my pony's back, I've already spent quite a bit of time with him.
This has a few different advantages. First and foremost, this extended daily grooming makes Dino beautiful. When I left for vacation for over a week this summer, Chancey's mom told me she had never seen my pony so dirty in his life as he was after ten days of neglect. Even so, his coat is shiny, his tail is luxurious, and because of that my show-day grooming routine is extremely minimalistic.
But probably more important than fueling my vain desire to have a pony who looks ready to step into the show ring at all times is the fact that spending this much time massaging, brushing, and just being with Dino goes a long way to help us connect. I get a chance to see how he's feeling that day, to help him start to relax and loosen up in preparation for our ride, and to move us both towards a focused, working mindset. When I have to rush through my routine for whatever reason, Dino feels and reacts to that haste and tension, and his mood sours accordingly. Spending a long time grooming helps us tune into each other and begin our time together in a relaxed and happy way.
For the past two days, Sully's Mom has been acting as my personal groom at the barn. On one hand, this is really great. I arrive, groom and tack up Sully, and start riding. While we are busy perfecting the delicate art of Not Throwing One's Head In The Air During Upward Transitions, she grooms Dino and gets him ready for me to ride. Once I'm done forcing poor Sullivan to do All The Hard Things, I hand him off to his mommy to ride, and hop on my own pony.
While there is something very nice about not having to worry so much about the time crunch involved in getting two horses groomed, ridden, and cared for before dark, I REALLY miss the extra grooming time I usually spend with Dino.
And, based on his demeanor, Dino misses it too.
My first clue was his surprised expression when I gave him a scratch and then grabbed Sully and put him on the crossties instead. It was a, "But you always give ME attention first!!" look if I've ever seen one. Dino followed us over to the jump field and looked a bit confused as to why I was riding Sully instead of giving him his daily massage.
And once I finished with Sully and hopped on my pre-groomed-and-tacked pony, Dino seemed downright offended by my ignorance of his needs.
I hadn't taken the time to just be with him, to brush him, to ask him how he was doing that day, and because of it I felt a difference in how Dino behaved under saddle.
Dino felt tense, and cranky, and was acting like we hadn't just spent the past 6 years together learning about "leg means go". While I did get some OK work out of him in the ring, the whole ride was just resistant and unenthusiastic. So after I finished with the dressagery, went on a walkabout around the farm since the corn has FINALLY been cut, and Dino enjoyed this activity quite a bit more than a flatwork school in the ring. When we reached the bottom corner of the field and galloped back home, homeboy LIT UP and flew between the rows of corn stubble, the happy jaunt being grounds for his forgiveness of my neglect.
The next day we followed the same routine, and Dino again was sullen and took some convincing to get him to work for me. I was at least wise enough to ride him in an open field instead of inside our little "arena", and that did a lot to improve his mood and willingness. After I had gotten some GREAT canter work, we went on another easy stroll around the farm, and I made sure to give him a thorough massage after untacking.
Today, I'll be sure to groom my own pony, and then take him on a trail ride. Because it's important to him, so it's important to me.