On Monday night, a bunch of the ladies from the barn got together for margaritas and horse talk. You know, standard stuff. One of the women sought me out, and blurted out “I am so thankful your horse is so good. I almost lost her the other day!” I stared blankly at the woman… what?
She was out in the mare field to get her horse in an attempt to squeeze in a ride between the time the sun comes up in the morning and the time she had to be at work. She moved all the mares away from the gate, got her mare, opened the gate, and May (politely) RAN through the gate. Trotting down the path to the barn.
(for those that didn’t see my barn post, here is a diagram of the barn. May goes out in the teal field and lives in the bright green barn. The only road is the one at the very bottom of the picture.)
Now, this needs some context. A few months ago, a boarder was covering for someone on one of the morning weekend shifts. No big deal. On Saturday, she says to me, “I know May turns herself in and out, but I had to lead her myself.” News to me.
Apparently, May has trained everyone into knowing that, once her muzzle goes on, she can take herself out. And once breakfast is ready to be served, she is quite happy to let herself in and wait for her muzzle to be taken off. And that’s just… May for you.
At first, I was ready to be upset when I learned about this. Parts of me screamed about how unsafe it is, how something could happen, how horses need to be led everywhere. But you know what? Last year she got bit by a horse fly while standing in the grooming area. What did she do? She basically levitated in the air, spun herself around (carefully), and trotted the 10′ to her stall. She is far more likely to be kicked by another horse being led with her in and out of turnout than she is to hurt herself walking back and forth to her stall. (or even trotting when she knows she wasn’t technically being let back in)
It works for her, so it works for me. (Although, I continue to lead her from stall to field and field to stall… Maybe I’m the sucker because May gets an extra treat this way.) Are there any “rules” your horse breaks?
So yesterday was my birthday, so I am not going to apologize for the lack of media here (although, that should be changing soon!). It was one of those birthday that just happens between the time you can legally drink and the symbolic “decade” birthdays. Solidly out of my Mid-Twenties though and into my Late-Twenties. As an extra special surprise, I got a text from my trainer on Monday morning. All it said was, “Lesson at 6:30 on Tuesday? Jump? :-D”
Obviously, I answered with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” (followed by about a million smiley faced). Then, I sort of panicked. See, May and I have only kind of loped around fences super casually, and I didn’t get the weekend at all to prepare. Saturday we did some long and stretchy stuff, and Sunday we did some walking.
We also have only had 3(?) jumping lessons with this trainer over the course of the year and a half I have been at this barn. The last jump lesson was a year ago. (I am not counting the impromptu lesson we had where I jumped around tiny jumps in my dressage saddle… but I guess I could.)
Most of my trainer’s clientele are either actively competing or planning on competing at the Training/Prelim levels this year, so sometimes, she cranks the jumps up. So, in a totally normal reaction to stress, I polished my boots up, wiped my saddle down before my lesson, and worried about having forgotten to grab a clean white pad to replace my teal, fuzzy, and now very hairy saddle pad. (I don’t think my trainer cares about any of this in reality, but I needed to do something to “prepare.”)
I got on about 20 minutes before my lesson to let us warm up before the lesson started. Unlike trainers of my past, my current trainer likes to get right into jumping or Dressage or whatever it is we are working on that day, so it is best to be warmed up before we get started (unless we are working on building or fixing a specific warm up routine for whatever reason).
While I was warming up, another lesson was going on. This woman at my barn competes Saddlebreds in the breed competitions, but she has fallen in love in eventing and is retraining her REALLY successful Saddlebred mare to be an eventer. I think this was one of their first jumping lessons, and let me tell you, that girl has hops! My trainer was laughing about the variety of horses in her barn, going from training a Saddlebred to my little draft cross mare. It makes it fun and interesting, and it shows just how many tools she has in her tool kit.
Onto my actual lesson! Below was the general set up of the arena. There were two outside lines that aren’t shown on the below, but we didn’t jump them, so I didn’t include them. I think it’s busy enough as is!
So where did we start? Well, we started with my trainer explaining that this would be a gymnastic-type lesson to see where we’re at. Works for me!
We started with trotting that single orange pole at the top. Literally. One pole on the ground, at the trot. My trainer had me establish rhythm and had me focus on NOT pushing May past her rhythm, which was actually a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. We ended up having to do this twice, each direction, to get it right. Then, we moved to the set of three, teal, poles next to it. Each of these were raised on one side in an alternating fashion.
Again, the focus was keeping the rhythm even and a little slow. To get the power and push from behind without the horse trying to run through the exercise. Thanks to the first exercise, this one was pretty easy. We got it quickly, and were able to move on.
We moved onto the “Circle of Love”, which is the circle of blue jumps and blue cones in the above diagram. (my trainer REFUSES to call it the Circle of Death). Either way, it was a 20M circle with 4 jumps, and 4 sets of cones. At first, she only had 2 of the jumps up, but we were able to do that with absolutely no problem, so she made it up to all 4 jumps after 1 circle. Moral of this story? I do not need to throw my body over fences, and I need to be more comfortable with correcting quickly after a fence. I would say the first time through in each direction was rough, but once I got over the idea of letting May lift me out of the tack instead of throwing my body around, it got a lot easier.
My trainer explained that the goal of an exercise like that would be to first be able to get through the exercise comfortable in both direction. Then, to get the same number of strides between each fence. Once that is established, then you can make it more difficult by going outside the cones and adding 1 additional stride between each fine, and then weaving inside the cones and getting 1 fewer stride between each fence. She said this is something you would build over time, and wasn’t something we should try to drill into the horse in a single session.
She was pretty impressed with how quickly we figured it out, and was even more impressed with the fact that May wasn’t huffing and puffing after it. Fitness is working! (for her… this was the hardest I had worked in the saddle in a while, and I was feeling it!)
So what was next??
Next was an exercise in adjust-ability. We moved onto the three purple poles in a straight line down the middle of the arena. Not sure if any of you remember an earlier post, but I had jumped through these in a super open 3 to try and jump from a more open stride. Yeah… not the focus of this lesson. I was told to jump in and just let it happen in 4. We did that once in each direction, and then my trainer told me to do each of them in 5.
Now, May now knew that these were a 4, and turning an open 3 into a 5 is a pretty big ask from the big lady. The first time in, she blew off my half halt before the first fence, blew it off between the first and second fence, and my trainer told me to halt before the last fence. We did, and then we tried again. It continued to be REALLY difficult for her, and there was a told of dramatic head throwing. However, she was completely capable of doing it. For my part, I had to think of getting a real Dressage-Like canter. I mean, I was visualizing the canter I need to get a solid leg yield across a diagonal type of Dressage canter. I needed to keep May really high through the poll and shoulders. I don’t think I have ever asked this horse to collect her canter this much, and you know what, I should be. A couple of times, we close momentum and ended up in the trot, but I just circled and asked again. If she went through the jumps correctly, she got to canter on a more forward stride and looser rein as a reward.
So how do you build on that? You jump a very technical course with very low jumps!
We were instruction to come down the purple line of jumps in a 5 to a 4, go around the 9 o’clock jump on the circle of love, go between the cones, jump the 6 o’clock jump on the circle of love, go through the next set of cones. Then, we had to complete the S patter, by jumping the gray diagonal jump, turn to jump the last 2 jumps of the purple pattern in a 4, and then make a right turn to jump the oxer. After the oxer, we had to keep our line to fit through the super tight opening between the middle purple jump and the teal, raise poles.
So how did it go? Well, the first time, I wasn’t able to get the 5 to the 4. I didn’t push May forward over the second jump, and we just didn’t have the power to get 4, so we started again, and we nailed it. I came around to jump 4, which she jumped a bit big, which left us big to jump 5… and then I promptly forgot where I was going. My trainer told me, “I knew you forgot because you were looking at the wrong end of the arena.” whoops!
We restarted at jump 4, since May seemed to really understand the purple exercise. I rocked her back for jump 4, kept the bouncy canter for jump 5, demolished jump 6, cross cantered to jump 7, got my balance back around the corner, and jumped 8 beautifully before easily keeping our line through the small opening before ending our course. Was it pretty? Nope. That’s why you do these types of things with small jumps.
We decided to end on that note. Sure, the 4,5,6,7 line could’ve been cleaned up a bit, but we kept our rhythm and our line, which was the whole point. Since she jumped 8 so well, we through that was a great note to end on.
And today? I am so sore! hahaha. Can’t wait for the next lesson! (we also might have put a local schooling horse trial on the calendar for next month. Stay tuned!)
I was scrolling back through my posts to see if I could confirm this, but I am pretty sure Sunday was the first day I did an actual course of jumps in my new jumping saddle… I have popped over a few single fences here and there, but hadn’t actually strung a course together… nor do I think I had jumped an oxer in that saddle… and I know I wasn’t jumping oxers in my Dressage saddle… so how long had it been since we had jumped an oxer… Oops. Oh well.
(I think that might have been our last oxer… 11 months ago) Sunday was actually really beautiful in KY. We had about 18 hours of dry weather, which was enough for the amazing footing in our outdoor arena to dry up. So I begged and pleaded for the husband to come take video for me. (Really, I just asked since the weather was finally nice enough.)
Hindsight? I should’ve brought my crop with me. The horse with the carriage was out there when I went to get on, so I got on in the indoor and then walked over to the outdoor. No reason to get dumped because I didn’t want to bother to walk an extra 50 feet to a less busy arena. May didn’t seem to have a problem with the carriage this time, which was definitely improvement, but she was definitely just preoccupied with thoughts of what the cart was doing. I couldn’t really get her totally in front of my leg, but she was relaxed and obedient.
Since the jumps were set pretty small, I figured I would just warm up a bit and hope she woke up a bit. (This is terrible horsemanship, but… oh well… I had a relaxed horse.) There was a small box (maybe 12″) set up so that you could canter a 20 meter circle over it, so I started with that. I worked on establishing rhythm without losing suppleness through her body.
After a few times in both directions, I asked the husband to turn on the camera, and I pointed out the few jumps I was planning on doing. The footing nearest where he was filming was a bit deep and wet still, so I just avoided that line, but I wanted to pretty much jump everything else. haha
My original plan was to get through the course and then clean up the parts that I felt were messy. Mind you, early in the week I had tried to jump a few fences, and I missed to Ever. Single. One. I COULD NOT find a distance. This time, I shortened up my reins a bit, and focused on keeping my hands a bit higher than what I am used to (but what is probably correct), and keeping my reins short enough that my hands were about halfway up her neck. Below is what we got:
Overall? I am really happy with that. The biggest issue is obviously pace. Our pace should be closer to what we have in this clip:
However, the most important thing to me when reintroducing a horse to jumping is to make it as nonchalant as possible. It should feel like no big deal, just popping over a few fences. I can always light a fire under a horse’s butt if I need to… It’s a special skill of mine, so a quieter than expected jump school is a good place to start. Our simple changes were pretty good (although very numerous), and our only small argument was coming to the oxer, where I wanted to hold for no reason coming around the corner. I was wrong, she was right, and I had to pony-club kick for the long spot. Enjoy our small fail photo below:
It is probably also worth noting that I was testing a different bit in this video. A Myler D ring with hooks. No chain, but hooks. Jury is still out on it, but I clearly don’t need the pelham if she keeps going like this! So how do I feel about my jumping saddle around a course and over an oxer? I am pretty damn happy with it still. It doesn’t rock over fences like other saddles I tried. May clearly seems relaxed and happy giving me the long spot in it, and I felt my position was fairly solid given how long it has actually been.
WHEW! Just happy to be doing more than fancy prancing and trot sets though!
Also – who is going to the event-formerly-known-as-Rolex, aka KY3DE, aka Land Rover 3 Day… AKA who knows what they’re calling it now? I will be there for XC with the husband!
So as May and I have been upping our fitness lately. There is one aspect I have let go. Lateral work.
After getting May’s teeth and joints squared away and getting our fitness back up to a respectable level (still not where I want it, but much closer), I figured it was a good time to see where our lateral work stands. If you read this blog at all last year, you know that, without a jumping saddle, almost all of our lessons were Dressage lessons where there was a strong focus on lateral work. Why? Because as my trainer describes it, May is a body builder… not a ballerina. She needs more yoga before we can achieve real collection.
It makes sense to me, and I did see a lot of progress in her way of going throughout last year. So, I started with the old 40 degree angle, nose to the wall, at the walk exercise.
This one… Black is wall, yellow line is horse (who should be straight) and arrow is direction of travel.
She was really good. She moved off my left leg, held herself mostly straight, and finished the move by straightening out and marching forward through the end of the arena. Awesome. I repeated it a second time with the same results, and then we switched to the other side.
I got nothing. I set her up for the move, closed my outside rein, but my outside (right) leg on, and she threw her hind end through my leg and snapped into a straight line along the rail… No.. not what I asked. I made a small 10M circle,and asked again. Same result. She got a tap with my spur and reluctantly moved her hind end over. Eventually, we mostly got there, but she was still a bit of a pretzel. I didn’t want to drill the move, so I moved on to walking leg yields.
I thought about my trainer’s advice last year. Ride the horse like a table. If you had a table around you, and you picked it up and moved it along the diagonal, without turning, the legs of the table would trace the line your horse’s hooves should follow. It’s a weird visual, but it works for me. Again, I started with having her move off my left leg. We started with the quarter line to the rail, then the center line to the rail, and it was something sort of magical. She kept her body straight, moved at the angle I requested, and I could simply hold the contact with the outside rein. She got a big pat and lots of praise.
Then, I reversed directions and asked for the same from the right leg. Again, I got no response. Cool. I rolled my spur into her, and she moved on her front end. Even more cool. I tried to hold her with my outside rein, but she sucked her neck back, popped her shoulder further to the outside, and twisted her neck to the right. Ugh. Mare. I straightened her out, rolled my spur into her, and asked again. Same response.
Of course, I didn’t have my dressage whip with me (which only really makes her tense and might not have helped anyway), so I reached back and patted her just at the hip. It was meant to be a “hey, you need to move this part too”, and was definitely not hard enough to cause any pain. However, May took serious offense to the whole thing. She flung her head around, threw her body sideways, and gave me a giant huff. Maybe I just surprised her? I have no idea. It mostly seemed to work though, and I was able to get some correct (albeit very shallow) leg yield off my right leg.
The rest of the ride continued in mostly the same fashion. She moved easily off my left leg and tried to ignore my right side. (This is probably the root of my issue of getting her on the outside rein and was probably exasperated by the wolf tooth) I think the issue is still likely related to some general stiffness issues, so I am adding in some carrot stretches and her Back on Track sheet to see if those help. I am also going to continue with the pony yoga to see if it improves.
I think my next ride (hopefully tonight) will focus on stretchy circles where we leg yield in and out. I think that will help with the stretching and moving over issues. All the mud probably doesn’t help any stiffness of muscle soreness either. -.- In fact, it is supposed to rain 10 out of the next 15 days. Pretty sure KY is going to float away at this point.
In the theme of, get all of the maintenance work done before real training starts for the season, May saw the Dentist. Now, I originally was going to put this off a bit, as she wasn’t technically due. However, at May’s lameness eval, the vet stuck her hand in May’s mouth, gave me the hairy eyeball, and asked how long it’s been since she had been done… “Uh… about 8 months,” I managed to stammer.
The vet gave me a strange look, stuck her hand back into May’s mouth and said, “Who did you use?” Of course, I couldn’t remember the name of the guy I used once… 8 months ago. She just shook her head and recommended I try someone different this time and get them done sooner, rather than later. Well… Ugh.
So, in true horse-mom fashion, May had a dentist appointment about 10 days later. I opted for someone that doesn’t sedate unless he has to. I know this is a controversial subject, so all I will say on it is that I have a horse that can be tricky to drug (due to her draft blood), and the horse had just been sedated 10 days prior. If you get your horse injected 2x a year and you do their teeth 2x a year by someone who automatically sedates, that means you are a sedating 4x a year. (you can try to combine the visits, but at the levels we drug May, she only stays “sedated” for about 30 – 45 minutes… not really enough for injections and a full teeth float). I have 0 evidence that this is bad for your horse, but I know all sedation comes with risks (again – especially with certain breeds), so I chose to try someone who doesn’t sedate.
The dentist was recommended by basically the entire barn, and he even showed up on time. It was a good start. He also gave me a weird look when he put his hands into my horse’s mouth… I had just gotten done telling him how she had been done 8 months ago, but that I didn’t think they did a good job. He clearly agreed with me. Although, he was surprised at how fat she was able to be “despite how bad her teeth were.” Not sure if that one was a compliment May… I told him that if she ever started really dropping weight, she’d be at a full blown clinic the next day. At least he laughed at that one.
He was great though. He took the extra few minutes to get May comfortable, and he also took the time to educate me a bit. I have seen teeth being done many times on sedated horses and non sedated horses. I have spoken to many vets, equine dentists, barn mangers, horse owners, etc etc about teeth. I have looked into horse’s mouths, but this was the first time anyone actually took my hand, put it into my horse’s mouth, and showed me exactly where his concerns were. He ran my thumb over the issue areas, and showed me where to massage May’s face to check for any sensitivity. Then, when he was done, he went through the whole thing with me again, so that I could clearly feel the difference between right and wrong. It was a great moment in my education as a horse person.
I keep talking about her history, and I mention that, when I got her, she still had a wolf tooth on the left side. I gave myself a small, humble brag and talked about how I immediately had it removed. He, once again, gave me the hairy eyeball… oh what now!
“She still has a wolf tooth on the left side.” I stared at him, incredulous.
“What? I saw the tooth they pulled 3 years ago.”
“Well, there’s still one here. Can I take it out?”
“Yeah… of course.” I should probably mention here that this MADE SENSE. I have been struggling forever to get May onto my left rein when tracking right (aka – into the outside rein). This is not at all an issue going left, but it is nearly impossible going right. I was, of course, blaming myself. I figured that I was just better with my right hand because it’s my dominant hand. In reality, it’s a lot more likely that the wolf tooth was causing her pain.
The process was relatively quick, and as soon as it was over, May was visibly more comfortable (and totally ready to go back to her hay). Turns out, this was about half a wolf tooth… but enough to cause a problem. As the dentist rinsed off his tools, he said to me, “So for pleasure, companion animals, I only really recommend we do them ever year unless there’s a problem.” I blinked up at him for a second.
“Oh… actually… she’s my competition horse. We event.” Now, it was his turn to be shocked. I pulled out a picture of May jumping, and he took the phone from my hand, as if making sure it was the same horse.
“Well look at that, she really gets up there! If that’s the case, then I like to see them ever 6 months.” Sounded fair to me, and I feel a lot better knowing May is more comfortable now and being a bit more educated on the subject. Unfortunately, I haven’t really gotten to test out how she feels. I gave her the rest of the day off on Saturday, rode her really lightly on Sunday. On Monday, our dryer died and I had to meet the husband after work to pick up a new one, and then it decided to snow 5″ on Tuesday in KY…
Oh well, back at it tonight! Have you ever had any nasty surprises when you’ve had routine work done on your horse?
Trot sets… or really any kind of planned interval training for horses is still a relatively new concept to me. When I rode in H/J, horses were just ridden for 30 – 60 minutes 4 – 6 days a week. You tried to balance out W/T/C and add in jumping as necessary.
Then, I entered the eventing world, and I had a trainer tell me that my horse needed fitness… “Just add some trot sets into your routine.” (not her exact words, but most of her explanation just kind of rolled off. “How does one do a trot set?” was my first thought. Does one simply trot around aimlessly until they get a bit fatigued and then walk until they’re ready to trot again? Nope. I learned quickly that there should be some kind of plan to this…
Ok, how does on make a plan? I started reading as much as I could on the topic, but I definitely lack the most important element of knowledge in this area: experience.
This year, I am making a more conscious effort to really plan out my interval training with May and to make sure we are gearing up for this season in an appropriate manner. So, our rides lately have consisted of long walks or interval sets to improve fitness… so our rides lately have been boring.
The fields aren’t open for riding yet, and our barn doesn’t have access to trails. As a result, long walks are done along the road through the barn (a whole lap takes about 40 minutes so I try to do it twice), and interval training is done in the main arena (thankfully, very large).
Last week, we completed a 54 minute ride that included a lot of walking, 2 – 10 minute sets of trotting, and a couple of short canter intervals. What did I learn? That May is probably in better shape than I am. While she was a bit fatigued after the ride, my back was on FIRE. Definitely time to add some core strengthening exercises to my out of the saddle routine!
One thing May has really lacked as we have bumped up her fitness is true connection. Sure, she’ll put her head down and look cute, but the back end wasn’t taking on the workload like it should. Part of this was likely the soreness of the hind end that has since resolved with the injections. My original plan was to do a long and slow walk on Saturday, when the weather was supposed to get up to around 50, and then do real work on Sunday when it was going to be a bit cooler.
Instead, about 40 minutes into our long and slow walk, I realized something. I had no breaks. She wasn’t “running” away with me, but any aids I gave to halt were met with straight up refusal. The head got flung in the air, and she just barreled on. No mare… That’s not how this works. So I spent the next 20 minutes establishing a halt, and I decided that we probably needed a few minutes of actual work.
I hopped into the outdoor arena and began asking her to move off each leg, and I was met with… nothing. I swear some days this horse puts in ear plugs, decides that she knows how to be a trail horse, and that should be her true occupation. Today, however, I had my Dressage whip in my hand. So after she ignored my rather wrong leg aids, I gave her the slightest tap with end of the whip just behind my leg. Cue May flinging herself sideways and throwing her head around like I was beating her to death. The yield got rewarded, and the dramatics got ignored.
After a few more leg yields each way, with less and less drama and definitely no more of the whip, I asked her to step into the trot… And I got “ER MAH GAWD, RUNNING NOW!” I just concentrated on keeping my body still and slowing the front end. Slowly, the weight rocked back, and we finally got some solid work in.
I added in a couple of minutes of canter. (the canter was really nice, and we we were over the dramatics by then.) Then, we went back to walking for another 15 minutes, and we sprinkled in some really nice, soft halts. See the math? Ended up being an hour and a half ride… because she didn’t want to halt.
I did end up getting some (rather poor) media from this. May looks mostly the way she felt, which is a good thing, but GOOD LORD what are my hands doing? Definitely putting more of on emphasis on bending my elbows and riding her up into my hands again. However, I am really happy with how well she is doing with trot poles. This has to be the clearest point of improvement for her after injections. Before, she would try to stuff an extra step into the poles or even just knock them around. Now, she is properly pushing through them, even when she comes in under powered.
Does your horse ever have days where they prefer to be in charge?
Saturday was our “one week” mark from May getting her injections. I wish I had more media to share with you, but I will explain why that wasn’t possible. Promise!
All in all, May felt really good. She has always had trouble through trot poles.This weekend, there were 4 fairly spaced trot poles set up in the outdoor, and we could do them from a slow trot without an issue. She could push through them without falling on her forehand and running past my aides. But why no media? Well, both days this weekend we had to share the arena with the horse-eating carriage.
In fact, on Saturday, our ride lasted more than an hour. We walked, like usual, started our trot, then the carriage showed up. May was… not amused, so we walked. We followed the carriage for about 15 minutes. Then, they started trotting, which makes a lot more noise, and May had to be convinced to follow it again. By then half hour mark, we could reliably walk and trot with the carriage in the arena. Then, I tried to canter, and May put up a big fight. Flinging her head around, not allowing me to sit on her, and trying to run off with me… Fun. When I got a decent canter, I let her walk.
Then, the carriage needed a video, so I ended up walking around the arena while they took the video. After the video, I asked for the canter again, and I was able to get a mostly relaxed and collected canter. Whew!
The next day, I showed up to the barn still a bit sore from the day before (holding back the May freight train was a workout!). Of course, as soon as I tacked up, the carriage horse went out to get hooked to his trailer… cool. I went out and got on before they got out there, and another rider lamented that if the carriage came into the ring, she would probably end her ride.
Nope. No Way. Not doing that. It was one of the first 50 degree days with sunshine in a while. I didn’t have time to stop my ride and pick it up again. We were riding through this.
Luckily, May ended up being a lot more relaxed about the carriage this time around. Not totally relaxed, but at least, totally rideable. In fact, I ended up loping over a few fences with her, all of which she took quietly and out of stride. Good girl!
Hopefully, we can get a real jump school in soon. Has your horse ever seen a carriage? Or have there been any majorly “spooky” things you have had to school your horse through at home?
I am going to fully admit that most of the below is for my own notes and recollections, as joint injections are something that are still relatively new to me, and I like having detailed notes about my vet visits outside of regular shots and coggins. There is a TL/DR section further down this page in bold, if you don’t want to read the whole post.
One of the joys of living within an hour of Churchill Downs is access to some amazing racehorse/lameness vets, and at prices that strongly undercut their NY/NJ counterparts. A few factors led to me looking for a vet to come look at May to discuss what (if any) maintenance we should be looking at:
May had her hocks injected in October of 2016. She was showing some lameness and the vet at the time prescribed this course of action. Both hocks showed changes at the time, but I was never really certain that the improvements I saw were due to fitness or the injections.
May’s job was fairly mild in 2017. If she jumped 6 times, I would be surprised. Between having shoes off, my wedding, our lack of jumping saddle, and zero competition goals, she was never really pushed in 2017, so I wanted an experience eye to look at her before I really started jumping or added in any heavy Dressage work.
A couple of times, May has shown some weakness behind. She tracks up normally, but would be VERY sluggish going up hills and doing any lateral work that required her to rock back. One or twice, I swear I could feel one hip coming up a bit uneven vs. the other hip, but I could never recreate it near the mirror.
While May is not a “high performance horse”, she is a horse that I need to stay very happy in her job. Ideally, she could continue to work and maybe even pack some kids or a timid AA around starter well into her late teens and early twenties… or do some lower level Dressage. As her owner, I think there is an ingrained responsibility to helping your horse be comfortable and happy in their work for as long as possible.
Originally, the workout was supposed to be on 17th, but due to the banamine in May’s system and the subtleness of what we were looking at, it was decided to wait a week. Good news, May’s eye got a thorough recheck and is healing even better than the vets had hoped for. Yay! Bad news, they definitively identified some lameness.
The way this vet practice works is there are two vets that come out for these types of calls, and they bring one helper to jog horses, hold horses, and basically just make it easier for the vets to do their jobs. The appointment started with the vet going over May’s entire body, utilizing acupuncture spots to see if any soreness jumped out. They also utilized hoof testers to make sure we weren’t looking at hoof pain, and they checked teeth. (May’s need to be done… not surprised, but something I am going to have to wait a few weeks to do. I had to prioritize current pain over a developing issue in this case.) They didn’t check eyes because… they had stared at her eyes a LOT lately.
Unsurprisingly, May reacted to none of their tests. Everyone kind of shrugged and acknowledged that she’s a pretty stoic girl, who would rather you stop poking her. Thank you very much! So we moved on to jogging her on hard ground. The vet explained that, if we didn’t see anything jogging on hard ground, we would move to small ground, and then to seeing her under saddle if nothing showed up. Fair enough to me.
Here’s the interesting thing. The hard ground (pretty much the only hard ground left in this part of KY… pretty much everything flooded this weekend) that we jogged on is on a slight incline. Going up the hill, May had a slight head bob and irregularity in the hind end. Heading down the hill? She looked totally sound. Huh. Ok. (Below is from before I injected her hocks the first time, you can see the lameness the most when we change directions)
We flexed the back end, first targeting hocks, although any flexions you do on the back end will stress both the hocks and the stifles. It’s not like the front end where you can clearly isolate a knee. However, the left hock showed a bit more positively than the right side. Then, we tried irritating the stifle a bit, and she looked a bit off on both sides. Then, we tried one last stifle flexion, and it really made no difference in the diagnosis. So what to do?
Again, we went back to the fact that I wasn’t really confident that the hock injections made a huge difference in 2016. The vets indicated that I had the decisions to only inject hocks and then decide on the stifles, but they were fairly confident that the stifles were also a problem and that I would just be calling them back again to do the stifles anyway. Given that I don’t take putting a horse under sedation lightly (especially not a draft cross of unknown breeding), I decided it would be best to do both sets of joints. She was testing positive both ways and showing clinical signs of issues in both joints.
May was put under fairly light sedation, again due to her assumed draft breeding. (Draft horses are often “light weights” when it comes to sedation and are more likely to have severe consequences from sedatives). She was sedated so lightly that, a few times, she picked her head up to stare at some noise she heard or some animals in the woods outside her stall. (yes, the below is the only media I got)
We decided to do the procedure in her stall since there is a step up from the aisle to her stall that would be difficult for her to navigate while drugged, her stall is large enough to allow everyone to move around comfortably, and there are lights in her stall. I acknowledged my concern with joint injections and infection, etc. I am not sure if that is why 2 people took nearly a half hour to fully clean and scrub down the area, or if that was their general procedure, but I was thankful to see it. I held May while they did the procedure, not because their weren’t enough hands, but because she is better behaved for me than strangers.
Both vets were great about explaining to me what they were doing, why, and what their opinions were on what they were seeing. We first injected the right stifle. While a good amount of fluid did come out and it was clear, it was noted that the fluid was on the thin side. A good indication that this joint would actually benefit from these injections. May continued to watch the world around her, unconcerned as a needle was shoved into that joint.
Moving on to the right hock, the vet had a difficult time getting a need. into the joint. Since this was the less positive (less lame) hock, we discussed the possibility that it was fusing. Everyone seemed to agree that it was likely and that next time we looked at injecting the hocks, it might be worth taking X-rays. (I had gotten them taken with the last set, so I knew we already had changes there.)
We moved to the other side. This stifle showed a bit more normally upon piercing the joint, but there was still some liquid. (of note, neither stifle palpated like it was full of liquid, but given the size and location of the joint, no one was really surprised.) The other hock, which flexed positive and was the one where I had felt the “offness” earlier, was clearly not as close to being fused at the other. It had a fair amount of liquid of the thin variety, and we were happy to get some relief in there as well.
TL/DR – Injecting both hocks and stifles was clearly necessary, but she was only showing the worst of her symptoms in there right stifle and left hock.
I was very happy to have decided to go with the whole round (although ask me next week if it made a difference). I do believe that doing one set would not have resolved the whole issue and that soreness in one area was likely making soreness in the other area worse.
We then rechecked the eye (easier to do under sedation), and everything looked as it should. I stayed with May for another hour – hour and a half. I wanted to make sure she came fully awake before she was fed, and I wanted to talk to the afternoon barn staff about not turning her out.
Around an hour and half after the original sedation (remember this was a very light sedation), May took a loooooonnnnnng pee and got the bright look in her eye. 30 minute later, the afternoon staff arrived to feed and turn out. May was nickering and banging against her door, asking for dinner. I watched her eat her (very very small) amount of dinner (probably unnecessary, but I am a worrier and it was only another 15 minutes anyway) and gave her one last brushing over before heading home.
When I visited her on Sunday, she was laying down, but she quickly popped up and said hello. She got a ton of cookies (and more goop shoved in her eye). I gave her Monday off too, and haven’t decided yet if I will begin her back in super light work on Tuesday, or if I will just wait until Thursday. Either way, I won’t really see results until a solid week.
All in all, happy I did this, and it gives me a bit of confidence knowing that I am helping May feel her best as we enter this competition season.
Amidst all the driving back and forth to the barn, I have had an opportunity to reflect on what I am more thankful for in my riding career. However, the thing I am most thankful for, is the mare that turned out to be much more than she was ever supposed to be.
I have talked a lot in the past about how May was a complete impulse buy. You can read the full story here: A May As Well Purchase However, I am not really sure I ever explained what I was expecting. Originally, when I bought her home, we joked that I had overpaid for her. After all, she couldn’t even do a 20M circle before she popped her shoulder and ran in the opposite direction, a canter took nearly 20 steps of trot to pick up, and I quickly learned that she had never seen a gymnastic.
To be honest, my original thought for buying her was that, if she didn’t work out, I could recoup most of my money and just sell her as a trail horse. She was sane, and sensible, and had color. All the things trail people want. Right? I mean, she could comfortable carry a larger rider for miles without discomfort. Then, we went to our first CT. It was a W/T Dressage Test and 18″ stadium round.
And we had SO MUCH FUN. She was a champion, and I finished with a giant smile on my face. I was hooked on competing this horse, and I think the man in this situation finally understood what it was all about. She never was supposed to be as cool as she is, but gosh… she is really cool…
I think she has turned out to be really cool… And I can’t wait to see what more she has to show me.