It was above 30 yesterday. Snow melted. The sun came out. This morning, it was 20 while I had breakfast, and I saw a blue jay out the kitchen window. I know we will probably get another good storm or two, but - we might actually make it through this winter!
Last night, I rode. While grooming, I noticed that his fetlocks were puffy all around, front more than back, and he felt very stiff in the warmup. I had longed Thursday night, and spent longer on the trot-canter transitions than I intended. He was blowing through my commands and I kept him hopping until he got a few good, prompt responses, but that was more time cantering on the longe than he's done in a while.
Lesson learned. Nothing permanent done: I did a long, loose warmup, and after 20 minutes jumped off to run my hands over his legs again. Cool and tight. He worked out of the stiffness and we worked on transitions, of all types. Into and out of lateral work - one step of leg yield, then straight. Two straight strides, two strides of shoulder in, and back. Off the wall, straight, back to the wall, straight. Then halt-walk-trot-canter, up and down. Transitions within the gaits: off his back for a bit of a hand-gallop and then back deep in the seat for a more settled canter through the corner.
It was easily 35 degrees in the indoor, and that combined with the length and intensity of work would have left him sweaty and puffing even 4 weeks ago. Last night he walked out of any puffing within a few minutes, and was only slightly damp on his chest. His weight is at a good level, and his topline is slowly, slowly filling in. I've been noticing his neck lately: that long connected muscle over the top is standing out again, creating that triangle instead of the long thin pencil. The point of his croup has almost entirely rounded back in with fat and muscle. The dip in front of his withers is rising, and his withers in general are thickening.
He's shedding out in earnest now, and that combined with the muscle building is easing some worries I had about metabolic problems that might come with age. His injury, time off, surgery, and rehab were perfectly sensible reasons to have lost so much muscle, but I couldn't silence that niggling voice.
Tomorrow, long hack - going to explore a new turn in the dirt roads, and then Monday, lesson.