Riding Mia this week was sort of an exercise in boredom. The ring was soaking wet on Wednesday, so I could do very little trotting, and the bitter cold North wind was blowing. Mia sort of put her head down and plodded around. She was NOT going to waste her precious energy by reacting to the wind.
When I first met the Arab mare Mia 18 months ago her beautiful brown eyes looked out at the world with suspicion and apprehension. She had no idea what I was planning to do with her (besides being ridden) and seemed to look at me as if she saw just another totally unreasonable human. But when I looked at her all I could think was WAR MARE, somewhere deep inside of her I saw a Bedouin war mare. Since I was introduced to Arabs by Carl Raswan's "Drinkers of the Wind" I have all but worshipped the Bedouin war mare, and I judge Arabians as to their suitability to be a war mare (or war horse for geldings and stallions) rather than their suitability to win at horse shows. War mares were not perfectly conformed animals, they did not necessarily have pretty heads and flat croups and perfect legs, but they had something that would keep them going when things got tough, and they had courage.
Well, when I started riding her Mia had pretty much given up on moving much on her own--it hurt too much. But when I got up on that old, hurting and weak mare she tried to do everything I asked for. She did not respond eagerly, but she responded to my legs to move out. Her trot felt like she was falling apart, but she always trotted when I insisted. The third time I rode her Debbie asked me to try trotting her over some poles on the ground, and Mia girded herself up and trotted over those poles even though it was hard on her. Once she got herself over those poles I knew that she had heart, the indefinable mental state that some horses have that enables them to go a little bit further even though it is hard.
A few months later, while Mia had improved greatly, it was obvious that her arthritis was not getting better on its own, all the exercise and the stretching exercises (asking her to step out further) had done some good but she needed something more. Debbie asked me one day if I knew of any natural supplements that could help her. I went through my mind, coming up with one thing or another, then I remembered what had helped the arthritis in my hands, Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA), through Evening Primrose oil and Hemp oil. There are not many good sources of GLA, Evening Primrose oil, Black Current seed oil, and Borage oil are the most often recommended, but the seeds of all these plants are TINY and their oil is very expensive. But the hemp seed is a lot bigger, and cheaper. After checking on the web about hemp and horses (thank you hempforhorses.com) I decided that the best alternative for Mia was hemp seed powder which I started to buy for her.
The hemp seed powder has worked well. Mia only bobs her head at a trot at turns now, instead of bobbing it every step of the trot. She moves much smoother, and pushes with her hind legs instead of dragging them along behind her. Initially I was somewhat concerned how the hemp seed powder would effect her mentally, but she has retained the somewhat crabby old lady personality that she's had since I started riding her. Mia is most definitely not a crazy Arab! She is also moving more willingly now, and gets impatient when I stop too long (away from Debbie), turning her head and asking me when we are going to move out again. I consider this great progress as at the beginning she would not move unless I insisted.
What does this have to do with being a war mare? On Wendesday, while walking around the ring, a corner of the tarp covering a pile saw dust came out from under the rock holding it down and started flapping violently in the wind. Before, while riding Mia, she had shied at dogs, moved jumps, flapping geese, flocks of starlings, and anything else that was out of the ordinary. She no longer shies as much (yeah) but I do not assume that something won't scare her, she is a horse after all. And what did Mia do about the flapping tarp? She ignored it. I turned her head toward it and she said SO WHAT? and went back to plodding. Going toward the wildly flapping tarp she ignored it. When the tarp flapped behind her she ignored it. When the tarp started to do wild gyrations to her side she ignored it. Flapping tarps are obviously something that does not scare this war mare.
I was very surprised. We had never ridden past a violently waving tarp before, and I viewed it with trepidation and prepared myself for the coming shies. There I was, ready for sudden moves, nervous about being able to ride out the scare, and Mia ignores it totally. Ah, another war mare characteristic comes out, courage in the face of chaos. I am sure that I will have to ride out future shies over little things (a dog, a moved jump), but I am feeling reassured that with MAJOR disturbances Mia just might go on plodding around instead of freaking out.
Little by little Mia's real personality is coming out. Her eyes are softer, she is giving us more leeway to mess up in, and she is controlling her reactions to the unexpected more and more. Sometimes, when I see her eyes after I have her do a challenging movement, I am starting to see satisfaction. I find it hard to believe that people had ever treated this mare harshly (apparently her breeders were not horse people and would yank her out of the pasture, throw a saddle on, and go on trail rides with no preparation, she did not get much training.) I find it hard to believe that anyone would give up on this mare. No, she would never win a modern Arab halter class, she lacks that smooth look, long snaky neck, and perfect proportions needed to get the ribbons. Her action is not high enough for the English classes, her head carriage is too high for the hunt classes, she is too high behind to be a good dressage horse, and she has too much impulse for western classes. As a show horse Mia would probably be a losing proposition. But Mia has heart and courage, and really, what more could you ask for in a riding horse? She just keeps on trying to do everything I ask her to.
Originally I was worried that when Mia started feeling more like herself that I would start having problems with her. Arabs that do not have that war mare outlook on life can sometimes get a little hyper and crazy, they are hot bloods after all. But now I think that my original perception was right, in desert Arabia, back in the days when the Bedouin used war mares, she would have been valued and appreciated. She's got what I expect from an Arabian, true grit, courage, and a willingness to cooperate with humans.
Debbie must have seen it too. She refused to give up on this mare. Debbie infected me, and now I refuse to give up on this mare. I just wish I could get her perfectly sound.
Have a nice ride.