What I'll Look For

When I got up on MJ for my lesson this week I told Debbie I was NOT going to be doing the sitting trot for a while. Ten days after I tried to sit MJ's trot I still hurt, mainly my upper back between my shoulder blades. It hurts, it creaks, and I have decided that until MJ gives me a really clear signal that his back feels good enough for me to sit his trot, good enough so his back does not feel like a bar of concrete, I will wait patiently and conserve my poor back.

Since I want no jostling how am I going to tell if MJ's back is better? Right now I do not dare to slow down his trot and try sitting it, that is how I ended up in pain after all. When I rode through my lesson the answer became evident, when he transitions downward from a trot to a walk I generally sit down his last trotting stride (or at least what I hope is his last trotting stride.) It is rough, but since MJ and I are literally going nowhere but around the boring ring, MJ is less likely to prolong the trot and he tends to come back softly, except for his back.

Unless MJ, coming down from the trot, gives me a relaxed back I am not going to even think of trying to sit his trot. Why torture myself? I proved to Debbie that I can sit MJ's trot quite well when I have to since her comment was that she did not see me bouncing at all in the saddle. This takes a lot of hip mobility on my part, swinging my pelvis to accommodate the muscle masses on either side of his spine, and by doing so I can prevent most of the bouncing. This leads me to wonder why my back is hurting between my shoulder blades instead of the small of my back. I move my pelvis a good bit when sitting MJ's trot but I have not had any twinges of pain there. Maybe wearing my Q30 neck collar is effecting my upper spine and stiffening it. Whatever makes me hurt I am not doing it again until I feel no shocks going up my back as we transition downward from a trot to a walk. I simply hate hurting after riding a horse.

I went ahead an gave MJ's leaser a Fenwick Western pad (that covers his loin with the far-infrared radiation) and a ThinLine+ Contour pad. Unless MJ feels comfortable under his leaser he is not going to relax his back under me. In order to get therapeutic benefit for my MS from riding a horse the horse must be willing to “swing” his relaxed back at the walk. THIS is the equine walk that reminds my body how to walk properly on my own two feet. The combination of swinging my pelvis from side to side and alternating which seat bone moves forward and back, it is the combination of these movements that seems to help my own walking. The more comfortable MJ's back is the more likely that the physical therapy I get from riding him will help me move better. Hopefully I will start seeing little signs of improvement next week.

Which leads me to exciting news. Next Monday I am going to start doing homework rides again! I won't be able to get out to the barn every Monday but any extra riding will help. I told Debbie that I was going to take it real slow, as in I plan to just walk MJ the first six weeks of my homework rides. Right now he is being ridden 3½ hours a week and I will be adding 30 minutes. Since both MJ and I are elderly it would be a very bad idea to go in whole hog with getting a lot of vigorous exercise while riding. Gentle walking will work quite well to get us both into better condition for when I add some trot work to my extra ride. It takes longer for us oldsters to get more physically fit, luckily we have all the time in the world.

While I was on the ThinLine site to order the ThinLine+ Contour pad for MJ's leaser I looked around and noticed something that looked interesting, the ThinLine Busy Buddy. They are not cheap at $25.00 but it is the only non-medical thing I've run across that addresses fretfulness in the wash stall. It is rather simple, elasticized rope, two clips at the ends of the rope, two ThinLine bit guards and a “mouthpiece” of hospital grade Latex tubing. The Latex tubing goes loosely in the horse's mouth, not pulling on the corners of the horse's mouth. The reason I got it? To quote “Helps with fretting, biting and kicking in the cross ties.” MJ is pretty stoic in the cross ties, most of the time, but there are definitely times where he is fretting and getting rather expressive, moving around, slinging his head, moving fretfully from side to side in the cross ties, giving us dirty looks, and generally expressing his displeasure. While MJ has not bitten me he gets sort of aggressive with his muzzle when he thinks he DESERVES a treat, sometimes he tries to push me around to remind me that he wants a treat. Well, sorry MJ, I don't do treats and I do not hand feed a horse since it leads to just this type of behavior (of course other people feed him treats, sigh.) Sometimes he gets sort of irked when someone cleans out his hooves. I decided to try it, after all there is never a guarantee that there will be someone at the stable to help me when MJ gets agitated for whatever reason.

I bought 2 of them, and I gave one to the stable. Often another horse gets put into the cross ties in the other wash stall right next to us. These horses get put there for various things, the farrier, the veterinarian, body workers, as well as grooming and tacking up. Pawing on concrete with steel shoes is not melodious. The horse I groom gets distressed, worrying that there might be something scary that he cannot see. I figure that after a few weeks of the stable using their Busy Buddy that I will have a good idea if it really works. Right now I can think of some good test cases, Tercel for one HATES the wash stall and WILL NOT SETTLE DOWN in it. If this works I will be much safer while I groom and tack up.

Though Debbie was not there when we started to groom MJ on Wednesday I went ahead and put it on him. Well first I had to find a halter that fit him better then I was able to get the tubing covered rope situated in his mouth at the proper looseness when I attached the clips at the end of the rope to the halter rings near his eyes. MJ was not pleased at first, his tongue went into a frenzy trying to spit the latex out of his mouth. After two or three minutes he decided it was not that bad and he quieted down though occasionally he would remember he had something new in his mouth he was not sure of. As we got him groomed he quieted down and was a bit more placid when Debbie appeared. I explained why I was trying out the Busy Buddy on MJ, she looked at MJ, read the package and she got interested in it. I gave her one and asked her to try and use it on the horses that are more restive in the wash stall, or to help pacify horses when the farrier or veterinarian have to deal with them. I really hope this little bit of safety gear helps out at the stable.

When we were bridling MJ I noticed that his upper eyelids looked more relaxed than usual, the usual peak toward the inside had smoothed down and his eyelids looked normal instead of stressed. Maybe this will turn out to be totally worth the money. After all horses do better in stables where calmness rules.

For my ride MJ just was not willing to extend his walk when I asked him to. Again I had to drop the bradoon rein and keep very light contact with the 5” shank Weymouth curb to get any lengthening at all. Debbie said this might be because he was ridden on Tuesday and might be a little sore from it. Hopefully the leaser will use her new pads I gave her, hopefully MJ will relax his back more, and hopefully MJ will become a better ride for both of us. Otherwise he might have been still dealing with the fact that the Busy Buddy has become part of his life because he felt a little bit distracted.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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