Older Horses' Legs

As horses get older and all the shocks from hooves landing at speed accumulate horses' joints tend to get REALLY sensitive when the weather changes. This spring has been chock full of weather changes, days of really nice weather, then the Polar Vortex visits us and all the cold weather gear has to come out yet again, over and over again. Springtime is not always wonderful for these older horses.

This was illustrated by Cider last Sunday. It was all of a sudden colder in the morning and Cider did not feel comfortable at all. She was moving gingerly when Shannon groomed her and tacked her up but it did not look too bad since she was standing still. When Shannon led her to the mounting block she looked Not Quite Right, NQR. I mounted, got situated, and asked Cider to walk. By the second step I was up in two-point, and by the third step I told her to go to Shannon. Every leg felt weird, and though she was not hobbling yet it was obvious to me that hobbling was in the future if I was dumb enough to insist that Cider move like normal.

When we got to Shannon I described all that I felt from Cider's legs and asked if it was alright with Shannon if I just used Cider like a pommel horse. I started off with my usual stretching exercises and then to my strengthening exercises. Then Shannon wanted to see Cider walk a little bit but I got the same results and back to Shannon we went. This time I tried something new. My grab strap has been on my saddle for weeks and weeks and I have not had to use it for anything else than a handy grab strap to move my saddle off the saddle rack. So Sunday I decided to use it because I've been wanting to practice leaning way back for a while but could not because of vertigo. So I leaned back as far as I could holding on to the grab strap with one hand and sat back up without any vertigo so long as I kept my face vertical throughout the movements. Then I got ambitious, leaned way back, sat back up, let go of the grab strap, got up into 2-point, did a “rider's push-up”, got up in the Vertical Far position, then I worked my way back down to leaning back. I did this a few times while Cider just stood there communing with Shannon, her favorite person.

Since I could not get any real riding in on Sunday I was looking forward to my riding lesson on Wednesday, but Debbie called me the night before. She was hacking, coughing and feeling miserable, and it was going to be in the upper 30s Wednesday morning. I told her to stay home, drink plenty of fluids, and we arranged for me to ride Friday morning.

Friday morning it was much warmer and I could wear my new riding clothes I'd bought earlier this week. While Debbie and I were grooming MJ her oldest daughter and her young son came to do a trail ride. Debbie stopped grooming MJ to find the Haas Pony brush which had migrated to another grooming box. All the Haas brushes in the boxes had a lot of hair on them, and she even found a Haas brush I had not given her, the Haas Rex which only has synthetic bristles. Giving her grandson the proper brush for grooming a super-hairy shedding pony Debbie got back to MJ. She told me that all the lesson horses LIKE the Haas brushes, and that she is getting her personal horse cleaner than ever before without tormenting him into insanity like all the other brushes do.

MJ's front hooves looked a little bit long to me. Debbie told me he was on the schedule to get his shoes reset next week. When I started riding MJ he felt NQR, and since I had forgotten my riding crop MJ decided he could play at being a beginner's lesson horse who never got above 2 MPH at the walk. Leg, leg, leg, then Debbie found a forgotten crop, gave it to me, and all of a sudden MJ had impulse again though I never used the crop that ride. Amazing what just carrying the crop in my hand can do to inspire the horses to move at a decent speed!

MJ felt fine at the walk in a straight line or gradual curves. Once Debbie handed me the crop the three speeds of the walk were easy and at least Debbie liked them though I wanted a little bit more extension of the walk. The fact that his feet bothered him some did not become obvious until I did turns in place, both hind and fore, then I could tell that from the knee down something was off. When we trotted Debbie could not see his head bobbing in one direction, in the other direction his head bob was minor, I did not even feel it in my hands. MJ was not as generous with his movement as usual, I figured out that he had legitimate reasons for not wanting to give me more so I just accepted what he gave me willingly. Horses will defend their aching joints and will usually not move them past their comfort zone where it does not hurt.

MJ was pretty good backing up, once I gave him a chance to get everything in the right place for his mildly aching leg joints. He even backed up straight for two strides. Otherwise I did not want to cause MJ any pain so I let him set limits on what I was asking for and we both had a pretty pleasant lesson. Old, experienced lesson horses appreciate it when their student riders listen to them and do not ask the horses to essentially torture themselves. This is one reason why the lesson horses put up with my poor balance and in-coordination, at least I never demand that the horse experience avoidable pain.

The first time I tried my new exercise on Cider I irritated her some since I did not keep my lower leg still. On Friday I took great care to keep my Rectus femoris muscle on the front of my thigh a little bit tense and Debbie said that I kept my lower legs still and stable. Yeah! It is challenging for me to go from leaning back to leaning way forward without moving my lower legs, I am glad I could do this.

Are you all ready for the coming heat? Summer is coming!

Have a great ride,

Jackie Cochran

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