Here we go again… I hope.
This has been quite the year so far, but I think the small gray cloud that has been following me around for the last 14 months appears to be getting bored and may be leaving me alone soon. I hesitate to jinx myself this way, but you know—whatever Fate wants to flip my way I’m probably not going to be able to influence it one way or the other through blogging. I hope.
Steve’s little injury I wrote about last time turned into the little injury that could. And did. First, it didn’t want to heal. Then, once we took him to Swim Camp (aka Aquatread), the injury went into healing overdrive, but it still wanted a lot more time. Because horses.
Steve came home from the Aquatread place about six weeks ago with his lesion pretty much gone, which was great, but then my vet slapped me with the rehab schedule. I mean, not literally—he emailed it to me—but it felt like a slap.
Here is a representative sample: Week 1—three days of riding per week, 20 minutes of walking each ride. No turns, no lateral work, flat ground. Week 2—three days of riding, 30 minutes of walking each ride. No turns, no lateral work, flat ground. And so on.
Oh, and his turn-out was limited to a few hours every day in the round pen. Generally, this was shortened to 30 minutes to an hour in the round pen because Steve doesn’t do summer. You know—heat, sun, bugs? Nope. Even with ace, even with alfalfa strewn lovingly throughout his little area, even with me yelling at him to stop being an ass, the most turn-out we got on really hot days was about an hour.
When his quarter was up, Steven would start doing handstands and zipping around bucking, doing a sliding stop at the gate to stare angrily at the barn. BRING ME IN! BRING ME IN!! I’M DYING OUT HERE!!!!
None of those shenanigans are something one wants to see one’s horse doing after he’s been off for several months from an injury. So, for the first six weeks (we got to trot starting Week 4!), me on his back was more or the less the only real exercise Steve was getting. Picture me on my VERY fit 8-year-old jumper, who isn’t getting more than a small amount of turn-out (which he resents anyway), trying to convince him that walking is better than throwing tantrums and fake spooking because he’s cranky about all of the walking. Fun times!
It was like being on my very own bouncy castle. With legs. And opinions.
I will say, however, that not being able to do anything but walk and then some trotting for nearly two months has been surprisingly good for both of us. My trainer Packy advised me to work on Steve’s propensity for throwing himself onto his forehand to avoid using his butt, and my riding buddy Morgan has been helping me with that project. The amount of grunting produced by Steve when he realized that vacation was over was both amusing and satisfying, since he only grunts when he is working EXTRA HARD! *GRUNT GRUNT!!*
We also have spent a lot of time working on Steve’s twin habits of traveling with his hind end slightly to the right, and not wanting to be even on both sides of the bit. It turns out that even fat little warmbloods who think flatwork is for suckers can be made to travel straighter and more evenly, a là the Training Pyramid. So, we may not be doing a lot, but we are actually doing A LOT!
We’ve also been given the all clear to go outside of the ring—not always a favorite of my city boy, who harbors deep suspicions about Nature. But, so far we’ve conquered walking like civilized beings in the front field, argued about whether or not the slight impression in the middle of it is a ditch and therefore NOT OK (Steve said ditch, aka horse grave, I said no, and we compromised by walking next to it in a severe bend), strolled the other way through the neighborhood where construction is happening, and—so far—he hasn’t dumped me on my head.
I call this a win. Well, there was the incident where he ran backwards down the driveway while staring in horror at the (truly) fake ditch one of my eventer friends had set up with a tarp and some poles, but we won’t dwell on that one. Even fake ditches apparently look like horse graves to Steve, and he says NOPE.
Esteban finally got to go back on regular, night turnout with the rest of the barn recently, which had me torn between feeling happy for him and terrified for myself. I can’t put him in bubble wrap, and he needed to go back to being a horse again instead of a shut-in with a cube feeder to keep him busy, but….yikes.
Horses like to hurt themselves—we all know this—and heck knows I’ve been through it more times with my various bad actors than I like to think about. So far, so good—he’s being brought in first in the morning so he won’t throw a tantrum and hopefully this will be the key to keeping him happy. To be clear, it isn’t that he worries about being left alone. He doesn’t have a lot of time for other horses.
No, what he gets upset about is the idea that someone else is getting breakfast and he is not. The only times I ever hear Steve whinny is when he is calling for his food. I’m not even kidding. ARE THOSE GUYS EATING? THAT’S NOT COOL! FOOD NOW OR BUCKING HAPPENS!
While we manage my horse’s stomach-related behavior on the ground, things are clicking along slowly but surely under saddle. I don’t get to canter for another week, and it will be a several more after that before we are cleared to jump. Steve is super, duper ready to do more, and so am I—one of my chants when we are doing a collected trot around the ring is “Don’t canter. Not safe yet. Don’t canter.” He feels good, though, and I think my remedial but intensive walk-trot work is going to pay off in our jumping, down the road.
Fingers crossed turn-out continues to go well, returning to cantering goes well, I continue to not get dumped on my head, and maybe—just maybe—Steve and I will be back in the show ring again this fall. Send peaceful, healing thoughts our way—we need ‘em!
And, to everyone who is or has been on a similar journey—here’s to happy riding, successful rehab, and good luck!
Susan Glover is an assistant professor in the Department of Government at American University (D.C.), specializing in comparative politics. She shows her Argentinian Warmblood The Red Spy in the adult amateur jumper division in the Mid-Atlantic area. Read all her COTH blogs.