In all the busyness of Indy news, I forgot to update on Shady. My last post about her talked about her randomly swollen ankle. Apparently she decided being out of work was boring and she didn’t need the extra attention on the ground anymore, so the swelling went away. I showed up at the barn after a week full of wrapping, icing, liniment, and Back on Track boots to find a perfectly normal ankle. Sounds about right.
Now I can begin the worrying of “what if it got better because I gave her time off? What if I put her back to work and injure it worse?” And a plethora of more questions to keep me up at night.
I had spent lots of time watching her go, either in hand or on the lunge line. While she wasn’t off on that ankle, she definitely looked weak behind. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between off and weak. Especially, I feel, when it is your own horse. When it is my own horse emotion takes over and I know nothing.
In this case, watching her go, I could see that she was very weak in her stifles. Her swollen ankle was not a good thing by any means, and please don’t suggest that it was to Shady. However, it did give me a chance to step back and really watch her, from the ground. This is something I used to do often, but somehow I have gotten a little away from that.
I think it is really important to see our horses from the ground. Sometimes we need a reminder of how they go. Yes, we can feel quite a bit from under saddle. On the other hand, it is a great advantage to see how they go without us getting in their way.
I’ve now been doing more ground work and changed my riding to reflect what I have seen. Of course her stifles would be weak; she has been out of work for about a year now. I can’t just hop on and automatically have my Prelim horse back. We need to start at the beginning.
Now I start by letting her warm up on the lunge line without side reins. Up here in the frozen tundra that is New England, warmup is especially important in mid January. When she is ready, I attach the side reins. I recently read an article about the purpose of lunging. It was a great article reminding people that lunging is not all about “tiring your horse out.” Shady is very good so this was never the case. My intention is to use the sidereins to help strengthen her hind end. She lunges extremely well; I can ask her for a bigger or smaller trot, spiral in and out, or ask for nice transitions, all without her pulling on me. I run the run through her bit and up to the dee ring on the saddle. This acts nicely as my inside rein.
What did I observe from here? In particular I could see her left hind leg not coming through and not stepping underneath her as well as it should. When going left she travels with her haunches slightly in and leans heavily on her left front. Going right, she pushes her haunches slightly out and puts more weight onto the right hind. The left hind then looks a little funny as it has to move much faster to keep up. Her left hind has always been a weakness for us.
The side reins, adjusted properly, really encourage her to come through and use her back. Our first session she resisted initially, hollowing and looking off behind. I had a brief panic attack thinking she was actually off and maybe that ankle did hurt. Then she sighed, gave in, and picked up through her back. Suddenly she looked beautiful. Phew! She was just being lazy.
After the side reins I hop on for a short bit. I have to remember that I too am out of shape. Riding when we both are running out of steam does us no good. I plan my ride ahead of time and focus on strengthening exercises for her. I also discipline myself to ride correctly the entire time. I have to say, she feels wonderful after the lunging session! I have already seen and felt a lot of improvement after just over a week.
Especially with the nasty winter storms that are heading our way, I am looking forward to summer!