Jitterbug's Guide To Lameness

Mar 10, 2017 - 11:10 AM

Jitter021017I am as devoted to my career training Humans as anyone I know….but from time to time even I need a break.

There’s nothing like a good week (or three) free of girths, side reins, and the endless prattling of the Human on my back as she huffs and puffs her way through another feeble 20-meter circle (or oval, actually). If a few bucks, bolts, and bites don’t send the message, I have to take a more serious approach. Good self-care is critical to keep you in top form for your charges.

Some of my colleagues will buy themselves a vacation by prying off a shoe, but I don’t enjoy foot soreness or the prospect of ruining my recent trim and polish from the Funny Farrier. (He got that nickname because he actually expects that I’ll hold my own foot in the air for more than 30 seconds at a time. Cute. Really cute.)

In my experience, a Fake Limp does just as well (or sometimes even better) as pulling a Cinderella—as long as you play your cards right. The trick is getting the time off without getting a visit from the Dastardly Vet (and if you screw up and he shows up anyway, knowing how to avoid any distasteful treatments).

  • Don’t overdo it at the outset. If you come in hobbling on three legs, there’s a 50/50 chance the Human will call her vet/farrier, and a 50/50 chance she’ll try to put a hoof pack on you, thinking you’re brewing an abscess. Although it can be absolutely hilarious to watch your Biped try to construct a foot pack (mine gets the duct tape everywhere but on my hoof, and once got it stuck to her eyebrows), you’ll stop laughing if the farrier shows up with hoof testers. Those things pinch.
  • Once you’ve gotten the Human to notice the lameness, drop the act intermittently. Paradoxically, even the smartest Humans rush to Google if they can identify symptoms of medical maladies, whether they’re veterinary or human. If you give her a clear pattern of lameness, she might start trying to diagnose you with something. Given how often she complains of allergies, cold sores, and dandruff, you don’t want her seriously trying to troubleshoot anything on you.
  • Don’t forget what leg “hurts.” Some Humans will panic and give you extra time off if they think more than one leg is injured. If you’re in the habit of being a wiseass however, your person might try to call your bluff and put you back to work. It’s critical you remember which limb you’re dealing with.
  • If the Human administers bute or flunixin paste to “help,” trap the paste in your cheek, turn your head toward her t-shirt and sneeze. That should discourage any more chemical aid.
  • Remember that tubs of Epsom salt water are easily overturned with a kick to the tub’s edge.
  • Plan a reasonable timeframe. If you keep up a phantom lameness, even an intermittent one, for more than one to two weeks, the vet is certainly coming to visit. Tap into your Human’s email and calendar to find out when he’s going to show up, and resume totally sound performance beginning one to two days before he’s scheduled to arrive. Make sure she also sees you gleefully playing in the field around this time.
  • Do migrate the lameness source up and down the affected limb. If your sudden recovery doesn’t stave off a visit from the vet, you’ll have to use your acting talents. You can either jog sound when he arrives, or test his mettle by alternating 10-20 sound steps with one or two stiff ones, occasionally tensing at the shoulder or stifle, and occasionally indicating the hoof. 

    Ignore him completely when he flexes or palpates you. Canter when asked to jog off after the flexion test. Throw in a few bucks. Graze casually while he explains his confusion to the Biped. Stifle your laughter when he drives off, scratching his head.

  • Don’t forget to come back to the real world. When you feel your blood pressure has come back down and you’ve had your fill of mud packs at the Pasture Spa, it’s time to go back to work. You know how hopeless your Human is without your help; it’s irresponsible to leave her floundering for too long. Plus, she really can’t afford to lose any of the fitness you’ve worked so hard to establish.
Jitterbug is a Michigan-bred Professional Draft Cross who skillfully avoided saddles until age 5. Since then, she has been lauded for her talent in successfully managing humans while training herself to one day achieve eventing greatness. Jitter and her human live in central Kentucky.
Read all of Jitter’s COTH columns.
Follow Jitterbug on Facebook! Photo by Dark Horse Photography.
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