During our vet appointment, my vet challenged me to take those glasses off for a few minutes. We discussed his weight and his inability to gain muscle mass in certain areas. She pointed to certain parts of his body and said "this should really be filled in" and " his ribs are not showing, but he never gets any meater in his loins". He's funny looking. He's really funny looking.
I knew what she meant, and I knew that she was being objective. I can be objective, too. I can see that my horse has a slight roach in his back, and knobby shoulders. I would like his topline and butt to round out more, but they just don't. He eats a high fat, relatively low starch feed and lots of beet pulp. Unfortunately, the quality of our hay is a constant issue, but I pay for him to receive extra and I try to compensate with more reliable sources of nutrients, like a complete feed and beet pulp. He has ample turnout (24/7) with a buddy and I work him. During the summer we work 4-5 days a week and I do not mean little 20-minute jaunts. We ride for about an hour with lots of variety in gait and exercise, transitions, cantering, and breaks. He sweats and gets a shower and his skin shows the brilliance of his muscle tone complete with the bulging veins of a body builder. Harley never bulks up, but he gets fit. Really fit. The kind of fit where he never seems tired and is always ready for more. Although he is a quarter horse, I am certain that there is a fair amount of thoroughbred blood coursing through his veins and that this may contribute to his lean body type. He is slap-sided and narrow-chested. He has good sturdy legs, but his large quarter horse hindquarters accentuate his narrow frame. He does not have a heart-shaped rump, no matter how much I feed him or work him, and was described by the saddle-fitter as "roof-backed". In other words, do not ride Harley bareback unless you have installed some serious padding! I am envious of riders who hop on their table-backed horses and go out for a little hack. Harley and I both hurt if we attempt this.
I explained to the vet that I do have a trainer and I strive to ride him in a balanced frame with a lifted back. I told her that he may not look like a dressage horse, but we did receive some decent scores at first level under two judges and he knows how to carry himself. He wears a well-fitting saddle (after a long, long journey and several saddle purchases), but Harley will not develop the luxurious, voluptuous curves of a solid saddle horse. He just will not. We have tried bodywork and lungeing. He is able to do what we ask, but he doesn't get any rounder and he stays lean. I joked with the vet that there are horses who sit in the paddock and do nothing with more "topline" than my horse. She has seen him for years, so she knows what I mean and she knows my horse. She said that every time she looks at him, she tries to see why he is not quite the right shape. He is not sway-backed. He is sound and his joints are good. She tells me that she is stumped in that regard. I told her that he is a horse who looks better in motion.
|August 2011: Harley demonstrates his ability to go long and low without any gear except a halter and a line.|
|My body position and energy seem to affect how well he stretches and engages. Can you see my smile over his back?|
|He does this equally nicely in walk.|
|Canter right gives the least impressive stretch, but this is not surprising since cantering on the lunge calmly and in balance has been a very long project. Good Boy.|
|A nice stretch in canter left. On a smaller circle, he can collect his canter, which transforms his slight frame into a generous ball of muscle.|
And he is. When he is moving, Harley just looks amazing to me. I see him on the lunge and he takes my breath away all the time. I watch videos of us riding and I muse at his expression and drive. He is one fantastic horse. Is his conformation perfect? Goodness no! Does he give the picture of a horse that can really move? Nope. Even my teacher says that when she looks at Harley, she would never expect him to move the way he does. I am not saying that he has some crazy elevated front end or extremely released shoulders, far from it. There is just something about him. Every clinician and trainer that I have ever ridden with has liked him. Judges like him, even if he does not receive huge scores. There is just something about Harley. He has talent, even if it is not the textbook kind. Something that makes people roll their window down and take a picture and makes neighbors hang over the fence and watch us ride for twenty minutes. My Mom says that this is his gift. He draws people with his good spirit.
I think that the vet's assitant had a sense of this, because she stroked his nose and consoled him, "Do not worry, Harley. Looks are not everything."
The vet was wondering if he suffered an accident, in his life before ours. Did he fall and suffer damage to the nerves in his back? She explained that if the muscles are not innervated properly, they will not develop regardless of what you do to work them. We will probably never know the answer to that question, but if the answer is "yes", that does not change a thing, because Harley obviously is coping with his body very, very well. He is athletic and sound and seems to relish training challenges that are physically and mentally challenging. I do not care if he does not own the picture perfect body. Who of us does? I love him and he is gorgeous. I cannot believe that he is my horse. My vet said, "Thank God you have him." I hate to think of anyone taking him for granted or being dissatisfied with him, but I appreciate her sentiments just the same.
My rose-colored glasses went right back on and they are not coming off any time soon. Love you, Harley.