Sunday, January 20, 2013

Getting Somewhere

We had a great fall, with a solid month of being able to canter during rides and feeling unstoppable. But during the transition to winter, we hit a few snags, as usual. Sofie began to show signs of soreness on turns, so we did more straight work. She was still sound at the canter. Then, at the end of November, she developed a lump on her right hind pastern. High ringbone. The lump was cold and hard when it appeared, so it was clearly not new or acute, but it was still troubling, especially when I read some fairly dire-sounding articles about the effects of ringbone. I was crushed that we had come so far, having seen her through hock fusion, only to be hit with another type of arthritis. And I felt terrible for having not clued in to the signs that she was feeling sore sooner than I did. Could I have prevented this from happening? With the hocks, our battle plan was always go, move as much as possible and keep moving to facilitate the fusion. That appeared to have worked, but was ringbone different? Would I need to work her less, and would that even be in her best interests? I was very scared.

I kept riding, and Sofie, having not read the equine medical journals, carried on like she always does. She really only had a couple truly bad days (one time, she was clearly uncomfortable tracking left and could not go straight. It felt like she was compensating in several different ways and corkscrewing her body to avoid weighting certain limbs), and the rest of the time she seemed okay. I treated her with Banamine on a few separate occasions (she won’t eat her bute, but will take Banamine if I give it to her orally) when she seemed sore, and that helped a lot. I also stopped cantering her for about the first week, then gradually added it back in when she seemed better.

In the midst of all this we also were forced to change farriers (something I was not anticipating ever doing), and they also added slow feeders to the mares’ field. All of this added up to a lot of change (and anxiety), but everything seems to have worked out for the best and I am very happy with our situation.

It’s now been over a month since I last gave her any Banamine, and Sofie is doing better than ever. We bought her some magnetic pastern wraps, and they do seem to help her. She gets “magnetic therapy” four days a week, as I apply them when I work in the morning or evening, and before and after every ride. We also got her some sports medicine boots for her hind legs to give her some extra support where she needs it most. She was a little unsure of them when I first put them on, but they really seem to help give her a better “platform” behind when she is working.

We’ve resumed our canter work, and we are also starting to play with leg yield and shoulder-in. Sofie has gotten really good at leg yielding left, and I recently was able to “unlock” her right side and get some good steps of leg yield right. She is very “stuck” on the right in this movement, despite her great progress with right bend and suppleness in general. She used to be very stiff tracking right at the trot, and now it is her best side. She reaches down and moves forward very reliably tracking right, so I am sure the leg yielding will come with time. I’ve been working on shoulder-in at the walk, and it is a great warm-up exercise for her. It really helps with establishing an honest connection.

Sofie is truly amazing me with her willingness and ability in her canter work. The fact that she is now sound more often than not means we can consistently work on the canter, which has greatly increased her comfort level. Before, when I cantered her, it would be every once in a while, and she would display a lot of anxiety behaviors such as rushing into it, fluffing her transitions, kicking out, and going crooked. Outside, she was much better, but in the arena she was never relaxed about it. I believe the increased tension, coupled with a lack of fitness, lead to her being sore afterwards, and then we had to stop cantering until she was better again. But now she is truly coming into her own.

She is now able to canter on the rail, without swinging her haunches in or going crooked. She is 100 % reliable in her canter departs, and consistently lifts into them rather than flattening and running forward. I have been focusing on doing more transitions rather than long intervals, but she will canter on if I ask and as she gets stronger, we will canter for longer distances.

Sofie is becoming very responsive to my aids and her willingness to canter is super. Sometimes when I half halt and pick her up in the trot she will canter just from the half halt! These are always her best canters, and I’m excited to develop more refinement and sensitivity.

She still has trouble with the right lead, but rather than try to drill it and force it, I am going to focus on developing her fitness and increasing her confidence in the canter itself. She is capable of taking the right lead, but right now when I ask she is guarding, and holding tension. I think if I continue to work on the canter and get her more comfortable with it while building up her hind end and focusing on throughness, she will eventually pick up the right lead with no problem. If we can just get rid of the tension, everything else will come. But she needs to be 100 % on the aids for that to happen. It’s getting there!

I am slowly working through her lingering anxiety. Usually somewhere in the middle of a ride, she will start to invert between canter transitions, either out of anticipation or something else, and she will alternate between slowing almost to a crawl and speeding up. Before, I would have no recourse to correct this, other than allowing her forward and rubbing her neck to ease the tension. Now, because she is so much more trusting of the contact and we have built such a dialog, I am able to keep her within the aids without her getting too claustrophobic. I am able to say, No, stay with me, I want you like this. I am able to explain it to her, and slowly, she is getting it.

The last time I rode her, toward the end, she was beginning to speed up, slow down, and come above the hand. I kept her trotting, asking her to move forward, and provided soft resistance with my hands. Gradually she began to stretch down, moving over her back and I could see her start to realize, Oh, I don’t speed up and look for the canter, and I don’t stop. I stay here.

Looking forward to a great year.