No Bake Sale Required

Jan 27, 2014 - 11:04 AM
Eph is showing that he can act like a fresh, well-fed, under-ridden 4-year-old, whose actions aren't always fear-driven.

Reviewing the overriding theme that winds through my small collection of stories about Eph to date, it strikes me that people may want to hold a bake sale to fund his move into the hands of someone more experienced than me for re-training. Rest assured that no Ephraims were harmed in the making of this blog! And, thinking about it, I’m the one ending up with all the bruises so if someone wants to send me a cupcake, I’d be very appreciative.

This has been a very rough week–my elderly, blind, rescue dog Byron had a stroke while under anesthesia for routine teeth extractions. Comatose for days and battling infection requiring emergency surgery, he’s been in the Intensive Care Unit of Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital for 10 days with odds of less than 25 percent. Amazingly, we are hoping that he will be stable enough to come home soon to continue his rehabilitation in my care. This incredible outcome is thanks to the brilliant and caring staff of doctors and nurses, especially his personal superhero, Dr. Lesley King.  She held his wee, seizing body in the back of my car as we rushed him to Ryan and then proceeded to repeatedly save his life. I mention sweet Byron only because when I look back at the week, he’s probably the underlying reason for my second involuntary dismount, and Lesley because she was there to see it!

My drive to the ICU takes an hour, and I’ve been going after work every night to sit with Byron. Obviously, things elsewhere in my life had to give. I haven’t been able to get my clothes dryer repaired (crunchy line-dried clothes are uncomfortable); food shopping is a distant dream, and housecleaning…HA! Not surprisingly, Ephraim hasn’t been ridden much. I visit him daily, groom him, feed his snack, and kiss him goodnight. The Polar Vortex’s sub-zero temperatures are demotivating and there just simply aren’t enough hours in my day.

I decided to ride him a few days ago when I was on call and emergencies were quiet. Lesley came to meet Eph and watch him go. There were two other riders in the indoor and one was also on a green 4-year-old. I opted not to longe for a few reasons:  Eph hadn’t required it lately, the ring was a bit crowded, and I hate affecting other people’s rides by making them squish into a small area. In hindsight, falling off and, as a result, setting your horse free, tends to do that as well.

Eph stood like a rock to mount, walked quietly, and went right to work at the trot. He was great. He stood quietly when asked and was simply perfect. Of course, I was VERY VOCAL about how fabulous he was to Lesley, who was at the gate. I was rushing things a bit since I was on call, and after trotting around for a relatively short period of time, I asked him to canter. The canter has been great with no issues other than keeping him going, and that’s just lack of strength. Both directions, circles, straight lines–he had been doing very well.

He has to pick up the canter from the big trot and gets the correct lead 95 percent of the time. But because it’s from that big, road-speed trot, I’m in a precarious position with a lot of forward momentum! He trotted several enormous steps and picked up the correct lead. I was sitting up and he took one canter stride, pulled his head down, porpoised, and STOPPED. Full halt. Over his right shoulder I flew, and he ran to the corner of the ring. It was a soft fall, I was fine, but what slowly dawned on me as I re-played it in my mind was that my horse had developed a move. Similar to how (in my day) a junior high school boy would use the “yawn and stretch” to get his arm around a girl, Eph now has a teenager-esque move that works.

I blame myself for the lack of longeing and the relatively short trot session, but this was definitely not fear-driven–he was making a point!  Young Ephraim made his first calculated not-nice move and acted like….a fresh, well-fed, under-ridden, 4-year-old in the middle of the coldest winter on record. Shocker! It was a necessary reminder that in spite of his unique history, issues, and attributes, he’s still a horse who will test me the way they all do. I need to ride him the way I know how and not let my desire for him to always have a gentle and positive experience make me a sitting duck. Or a flying / lawn-darting duck as the case may be.

Any and all cupcakes will be gratefully accepted.  :)

Liz Arbittier, VMD, CVA, is an equine field service veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center. She also enjoys rescuing elderly shelter dogs and just added Byron, an elderly blind poodle, to her household. Byron joins Virgil, Cybil, Gladys, and Maude (and Liz) in Coatesville, Pa. She grew up riding hunters and breaking babies, rode IHSA in college, and got her start in show jumping before vet school when she took a job riding with and managing Kevin Babington’s team. She is currently riding with 4-star event rider, Kate Hicks in Cochranville, Pa.


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