Being a thin-skinned, sensitive, red-headed thoroughbred, Liam has always had a strong dislike for brushes. He also doesn’t like when I put his blankets on and they brush over his back. And putting the saddle on his back always gets a dirty look from him, and the girth usually makes him chomp his teeth in protest. Even scratching his neck with my hand isn’t appreciated. Of course, throughout all of these antics, he will stand quietly in the barn aisle, without being cross-tied. He doesn’t even need a halter on. I just put him where I want him and ask him to stand, and he does. So I know it can’t REALLY hurt when I brush him, or he could simply walk away. But he always makes his cranky faces.
Well, the ultimate torture is coming. We met the sweetest lady this week, and she is a massage therapist for horses. She introduced herself to Liam, and found some areas in his neck, back, and belly that are tight or sore. I told her how he doesn’t like to be touched, unsure if she would even be able to work on him. She was not only willing to try, but thought that working on his muscles may even alleviate any discomfort feeding his behavior, and that further, he may decide he liked the massage, which could help address some of the behaviors he is displaying simply from habits learned long ago at the track.
If she’s willing to try, I’m willing to try. I can’t stand to think that Liam may be sore, and I love to think that maybe he will one day be happy to have me brush him. So he is on her schedule for next Monday.
Then I started to feel horrible that his back could be sore, and I started thinking that maybe all this time he had been trying to tell me something, and I hadn’t listened. I scratched his ears (he loves that, and having his nose picked) and apologized to him, promising to try to listen better in the future. But then my trainer put it in perspective when I said I felt guilty riding him knowing his muscles may be sore. “You know how after a tough lesson, the next day your muscles are tight or sore…. but you want to ride anyways, and then they loosen up and feel better? Why would the horses be any different?” Yes, my muscles very often feel it the day or two after a tough lesson. But, there is a big difference between the “getting stronger” kind of sore, and the “really hurt something” kind of sore. And we can’t really know what the horses are feeling. I still felt a little guilty.
So we went on with our lesson, and just a few minutes into it, Liam let me know just how he was feeling. He randomly popped into a beautiful canter, and my trainer went “Oh, wow. Lovely. Keep riding this. Let him go on. Yes, this is nice.” So I let him go on… and on…. and on…. And it was lovely. And, I think, just what we both needed. When we were both finally tired from a long canter, we ended the lesson feeling very refreshed. On second thought, why is HE the one that gets the massage?