Still at a Standstill

Sometimes it seems like nothing ever changes much. Since January 2020 when I got Covid-19 the pandemic has really messed up my riding life. I am not alone, I know, but I am getting FRUSTRATED even though the idea of progress with elderly Not Quite Right (NQR) horses is sort of ludicrous. I am equally frustrated by the reduction in effective physical therapy for my MS, namely riding horses.

My neurologist wanted me to get back to riding horses three times a week. Reality has dictated otherwise, last week I finally got to ride twice for the first time in a month.

And Cider is still flinching in spite of not being ridden for a month. Sigh.

Last Sunday I noticed that Cider was NQR when I saw Shannon “lunging” her to warm her up. It was not working too well, for one thing the lunging rein was way, way, way too short. Shannon and I talked about how Cider was but Shannon still wanted me to ride her since I can feel problems before they become super obvious. I got Shannon to walk Cider in straight lines instead of a small circle for tightening the girth in a vain hope of improving matters, but when I got up on Cider I was up in 2-point by the second step and I stayed up in 2-point for most of our ride.

For the next ten minutes I let Cider dictate her path in the ring, and the mare definitely had preferences that did not allow for my normal riding. We did not “accomplish” anything but at least Cider flinched a little less, but I felt her right hind leg not being as good as normal. As I was sinking into despair Shannon told me that they had been leading both mares maybe 600 yards behind her mom's golf cart, her mom driving while Shannon sat on the rear holding the lead ropes of the trotting mares. Oh, there was a REASON for Cider being worse than usual! Since they are introducing the mares to a new, grassier paddock by Shannon's “new” house the mares are EAGER to get there, the juicier grass is a powerful inducement for the mares. After a few hours of grazing the mares get led back to their paddock on Shannon's mother's land. This is a definite increase in Cider's physical activity which usually is limited to ambling around the paddock leisurely.

That made everything clear, and I thought about how to improve the situation for Cider. I had located Cider's hind exercise boots and I asked Shannon to put them on for my rides for a while. I also suggested that before they lead Cider from the golf cart to the other paddock that she put on Cider's BOT exercise boots on all four feet, just to see if they bring Cider physical comfort and help her adapt to the more rigorous physical exercise. I'll see how this goes before we think about adding the Fenwick leg wraps and Fenwick pastern wraps for their trot to the new paddock.

My riding lesson was with Sam, Debbie's daughter, again. I got there a little early and Sam brought MJ up and asked me to start brushing him so she could finish cleaning some stalls. So this time I got to try to make MJ as shiny as possible with my limited energy. Luckily MJ does not mind the softer Haas New Generation curry comb, and right now, in the midst of shedding season, he has learned to LOVE being groomed with the stiffer Haas Schimmel vegetable fiber brush, so much so that he was demanding that I go ahead and get his head with it. He had to wait for that as I went through the other Haas brushes, the horsehair Military and Cavaliere brushes, the boar bristle Country brush, and the lambswool Diva brush to get the last of the dust off of his coat. MJ was shiny, much more shiny than before, as as a bonus my saddle pad and girth hardly got dirty from my ride! Yeah!

Sam finished with her stalls and came up and took over with cleaning MJ's lower legs and putting his boots on. When she lifted his left hind leg his pastern joint gave a loud POP, but there were no signs of pain then or when I rode him in my lesson. I told Sam if she thought MJ needed BOT or Fenwick stuff on his hind legs I would get it for him.

At least, according to Sam, MJ has been moving better each week since his front legs got shod according to what the veterinarian saw on the X-rays. She was pleased with how MJ was walking and trotting. MJ, again, was much more responsive to my driving leg aids, he went “You want to trot? Let's TROT! Why can't I trot?” while I was still warming him up. MJ has a lot more go in him since his front feet were shod properly, which means I have to lighten up on my leg aids.

Sam got after my lower leg which was wandering back like usual, doing more of the grooming got me TIRED and I just lost track of it. To work on this I changed my leg aids from pressing my lower leg against his barrel to moving my lower leg back so I gave my leg aid where his barrel swells out behind my leg, then I made sure to release my aid by consciously moving my lower leg forward again. MJ seems to do better with this driving aid, probably because my release is more definite.

During one of his trots I tried to sit a few strides, but I quickly stopped that when my lower back started spasming, ouch! Changing the angles of his front hooves means that MJ needs to “re-learn” how to do his slower trot, right now his back is really involved instead of relaxing into the motion. I want to start working MJ at the three speeds of the trot exercise, gradually as his body adapts to moving with his new hoof angle. I now have the feeling that when MJ's body adapts to his new angles and as I get him fitter, that he will develop a more flying extended trot than he had given me before. Of course then I will have the problem of keeping myself steady on his back if he starts “trotting me out of the saddle” because he is thrusting so much more with his hind legs. But first things have to come first, and right now I have to convince him all over again that it is possible to relax his back enough so I can sit his trot.

It is amazing how correcting a horse's hoof angles can have such a big difference on how the horse moves and on the horse's willingness to move on out.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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