Shady’s Turn

Shady is a horse that truly enjoys having a job.  She’s got a great work ethic, great mind, and gets rather bored and grumpy when she’s not doing anything.  Our plan for this year is to compete in Eventing, as well as start on our way towards a bronze medal in dressage.

She had Indy May 21st, 2015, and hasn’t really been back to consistent work since December.  We spent most of the summer hacking and ponying Indy along on trail rides.  We were boarding at a facility that was more foal friendly and had less riding amenities.  That was fine; that was exactly what we needed at the time.

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Not a bad way to spend the summer, hacking around bareback with Indy in tow!

December we moved to a wonderful facility that was both perfect for Indy and had plenty of riding options.  We could finally ride consistently and get back into work!  We even started jumping again, which we hadn’t done in over a year.

Bringing a horse back to work can be difficult – both mentally and physically for horse and rider.  Mentally, both of us have to remember that we aren’t in Preliminary level Eventing shape anymore.  I have to keep in mind that she isn’t going to be able to jump right back in where we left off.  We can’t do the beautiful, collected canter we had before.  We can’t go hop around a four foot jump course.  Not yet anyway.

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Going to be a while before we are back in this shape!

Initially, she felt different of course.  Thus began the great debate in my mind – is she just weak, or is something wrong?

What do I mean by she felt “different?”  Well, I noticed several things.  Having owned Shady for 13 years, and backing her myself, I know what she should feel like.  She usually has a big, swinging walk and moves well through her shoulders with a loose back and active hind end.  She had a shorter stride than usual, most notably in the front.

In the trot, she feels a bit “hitchy” or “stabby” in the hind end.  She’s also been forging a lot in the trot.  Forging, for those who haven’t heard the term, is when a horse’s hind foot strikes the bottom of the front foot.  This occurs while moving, just before the hind foot lands and the front foot swings forward.  It can be indicative of many issues, including sore stifles and/or a tight back.  Shady’s conformation also predisposes her to forging as she has a short back and long hind legs.  I could write a very long post all about forging, but for the purposes of this blog, we shall leave it as something I noted that was different.

When cantering, she is tight in the back and moves much more forward and freer when I am off her back in a galloping or jumping position.  When I put my leg on to ask her to come more forward and through, she speeds up and hollows instead.

Another strange note – Shady has always had difficultly bending through her midsection going left.  Left lead canter has always been harder as well.  She likes to lean on her left shoulder and try to get me to carry her with my left hand (the very common “lefthand-itis” that so many of us have).  So, when she started going better left than right, I began to get a little concerned.  It is not like her to pop out her left shoulder and have difficultly turning right.  Her right lead canter has never been more difficult than her left.

I decided to start with the weakness theory.  I began putting her on the lunge line and doing more in-hand work to help strengthen her without my weak self being on her back and in her way.    I warmed her up at first and then attached the sidereins.  At first she would hollow and stiffen against them; then she would settle and begin to round.  Still, the hind end didn’t look quite right.  Not horribly wrong, many people would not notice.  But I, knowing my horse, did.

After lunging I would ride her for about 20 minutes, making sure to be as correct as possible with my position and aids.  She felt better, but I would still feel a step here, another step there.  I added in simple strengthening exercises – going forward, coming back, walk and trot poles, lateral work, lots of transitions, and frequent changes of bend and direction.  I also did as much hacking and walking up hills as the weather would permit.

Shady faced every ride with perked up, interested ears and a great attitude.  She’s never pinned her ears, misbehaved, or otherwise acted like something was wrong.  However when February rolled around and she still wasn’t quite right, I wanted to investigate further.  Weakness by now would have gotten better or gone away.

So begins the investigative process.  I have put Shady on an injectable joint supplement.  I will go more into detail behind this decision and the desired effects in subsequent posts.  Today I also had her blood drawn to have a Lyme titre done.  She does have Lyme; although she has been symptom free for over four and a half years, it could flare up at anytime.  Back in November she had a battle with anaplasmosis, a tick borne disease that she beat without needing medication.  Ticks that carry anaplasmosis are likely to also be carrying Lyme as well.

We should have the Lyme results back early next week, and we will go from there.  One step at a time…

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