Friday, October 10, 2014
This week is one of mixed feelings. On the one hand, Starbuck's still uneven at the trot and doesn't reach as far underneath her with her right hind. While it's not exactly lameness, I still don't feel confident working her 100% and it's something I have on my mind pretty much constantly. She has no visible swelling, hotspots or pain anywhere in her legs. At the walk she's perfect. At the canter she's perfect. But trotting (especially going to the left) you can tell that there's something wrong. My vet has ruled out tendon or bone issues and is convinced it's back or hip tension causing this, I've had the physical therapist out to work on her and between holidays, rain and preparing for the show with Vent she's had what amounts to about a month and a half of paddock rest with a few interludes of hour-long hacks, lungeing and very light riding.
Since she was doing better a couple of weeks ago but has now reverted to her old gimpy highjinks, I'm a little tempted to call up the "specializes in lameness" vet and ask for a second opinion. But both my vet and the physical therapist advised me to work her normally, with an emphasis on extensions. So I've decided to keep doing just that for at least a little while longer - if she gets worse or doesn't improve at all after a few weeks I can always stop working her and call the other vet and if she gets better then great. I'm trying to be objective about it and remember that when I personally have pain issues (especially back pain), generally the only way I can get it to go away is through exercise.
On the other hand, we are really reaching a new level in our relationship which I'm absolutely thrilled with. I'm convinced that my focussing on giving her more positive feedback and trying to dial down the negative feedback (less scolding, more praise) is really having a great effect on her behavior and motivation. I'm also able to use lighter and fewer aids than before and hardly ever get to the point of having a battle of wills. It actually feels like she's listening to me and waiting for my next instruction, and I hardly have to nag at her to keep going at all. In our lessons, to try to ensure that she doesn't just go around and around "practicing" unevenness, Marina has suggested that I do lots of transitions and work a lot over ground poles and tires and stuff so she has to think quick on her feet. We're also doing a fair amount of turns on the haunches to loosen up her back (which she's starting to get pretty good at), shoulder-in to build her up a little for more impulsion and trotting poles to work on her abdominal muscles.
As a result of all of this, her transitions are really getting spot-on - right when I ask for them, with ever-lighter aids and less dragging of feet than she usually does (trot? you REALLY want me to trot? are you SURE about that? oooooookay...). And after about 20 minutes of warming up with walk-stop-walk and walk-trot-walk transitions, her trot is definitely a lot more even and the irregularity is barely noticeable. But best of all? Her canter has improved immeasurably! Tuesday and Wednesday we only did transitions, never letting her get more than 5 or 6 canter strides in before going back to a trot. But yesterday she was moving well enough I decided to let her keep going for about a 30 meter circle to the right, and it was the best canter I've ever experienced on her. Smooth, rhythmic, energetic, even a little floaty... it was like a dream come true! And in the other direction it was almost as good, although there was a little head-shaking (probably related to the unevenness thing). And best of all? In the three lessons we've had this week, even now that it's dark enough for the arena lights to cast long and scary shadows, she's only spooked ONCE - and even that was when another horse spooked first, and she didn't take off galloping, only jumped to the side and spun a little.
So I'm really having a blast riding her both out on the trail and in lessons, and we get along much better on the ground - she pays much more attention to me and is a lot less bargey now that she knows that a neck rub, a "good girl" or a carob bean are right around the corner. And best of all, she seems to actually be enjoying our rides nearly as much as I do. So if we can get her movement and back issues worked out, we'll be right on track.