To ride dressage is to dance with your horse, equal partners in the delicate and sometimes difficult work of creating harmony and beauty.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Under lock and key

On Saturday afternoon, Rick and I were headed to a memorial service in Portland when our neighbor called to say that there was a lot of commotion in our barn and a horse was out and crashing through the woods. We turned around and headed for home, afraid of what we'd find. Before we could get there, our neighbor called back and said the escapee was Lance. She had caught him and put him back in his stall, and said he appeared to be okay. I asked if she could tell how he'd gotten out, and she said it looked like his stall door hadn't been properly latched. Oh dear....

We continued homeward to check things over ourselves; sure enough, Lance didn't have a scratch on him. Our afternoon plans completely altered, we decided to go for a walk. When we got home again, there was Lance, grazing outside the barn. What in the world? We knew we'd latched his stall door after checking on him. Hmmm; maybe Rick had latched it that morning after all!

We had to put a clip on the latch to Sammy's stall because Lance demonstrated his ability to open it. But the latch to his own door is much more difficult to move; us humans have trouble with it, and we have opposable thumbs! But there was no other explanation; Lance had to have opened it. Then Rick recalled that Lance's breeder had told him that Lance would let himself out of his stall, and then go down the barn aisle letting other horses out of their stalls, too – the rascal! So Lance got a clip on his latch as well.
This is how the latches look after Lance has been in his stall any length of time. I think we might have to start using padlocks....

We are still parsing out the saddle fit issue, but now have a theory to work from that is making sense. Lance gets a lump directly under the location of the saddle tree's twist (as did Russell, nine years ago, with a different saddle). Most saddles have A-shaped (vs. u-shaped) trees, which makes the twist more likely to "bite" a horse's back. (By the way, the stirrup leathers attach at about that same point on treeless saddles and can cause the same problem.) Russell's problem went away when I got my Black Country saddle, but the Black Country bites Lance.

Out of a desperation to ride without hurting my horse, Sunday I decided to try my ancient, battered Wintec. I rode Lance down the lane and back; he was very forward, and kept offering trot. (He was also whinnying for his buddies – pasture turn-out every afternoon is bonding the "herd" – so I attributed his energy to that.) When we returned home I took Lance to the arena for a little canter work. He picked up his right lead – which has been an increasing struggle – correctly at first cue from the walk. When I untacked him, there was no bump. Coincidence? I don't think so! The Wintec isn't a long-term solution, but at least I can keep riding until we find a solution.

I wanted to ride again today, but ran out of time. This evening I finally turned the horses out for their daily allotment of fresh grass. They were full of energy and I enjoyed watching them frolic, then stepped to the side so I could film them without shooting directly into the afternoon sun. By then everyone was more interested in eating
– until Lance spotted me.

That's my boy. :-)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Documenting and dithering

Yesterday Rick gave Lance's back the second of three shockwave treatments. I didn't ride and won't today, but at least the horses are getting out on pasture every day (and are behaving very nicely together).

In trying to make sense of Lance's lump, we are pooling our experiences and Rick's medical knowledge and diagnostics with input from two different saddle makers. Rick's part hasn't revealed concrete data, and the two saddle makers are giving us opposite recommendations! One says Lance's lump indicates the need for a wider channel (both saddles I've tried on him have generous channels); the other said, "I suspect 'too wide' is what makes the bumps. I won't know till I see pics of your horse saddled with the Black Country. No pad, all four feet in pic and girthed down. Side shot only. Do not get a saddle with wider channel. That creates more problems. You just need correct tree width, flocking for that horses build. Send picture and I can tell you more. May just need flocking." ARG!

Both of these men live too far away for in-person assessment, and both men have their own saddles/products to sell. But for the sake of further input, I WILL take and email the requested photos. I bought the Black Country saddle referenced from that man after he, my coach and my husband conferred together on the best fit for Russell, and he seemed very knowledgeable (and trusted by my coach). Russell remained very happy in that saddle, which the man also expertly restuffed for me once or twice for a reasonable fee when he was back in this area (from Texas). It was a used saddle he had taken in trade for one of his own models; he never tried to sell me on one of his because he knew it was out of my price range. My past experience with him makes me lean towards his recommendation.

I am also eager to try a saddle of Theresa's that should be here soon. Eventually, we WILL get this sorted out for Lance's sake. I just hope it doesn't take too long or too much money!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Moanin' and groanin'

I did ride Lance yesterday, using Laura's saddle with the Corrector and front shims. My back could tolerate it with that slight adjustment of balance as long as I stayed very conscious and careful of my position.

Since I wanted to ride down the road, I grabbed an EasyBoot to see if it would fit. Baaad idea. EasyBoots are a bit challenging to get on and off at the best of times; combined with Lance's impatience and my bad back, we ended up in a three-way wrestling match. I finally got it off again (it wasn't on correctly and I knew I couldn't manage a second boot) and we had a lovely outing down the road and through a blooming cherry orchard, ending with a little trot and canter work in the arena to further test the saddle.

Unfortunately, I was 'greeted' by a lump when I pulled the saddle off; moan.
Interestingly, it was more to the left this time; before it was on the right
And my back is worse again; groan.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rockin' and rollin'

The horses got another good taste of spring grass this afternoon. After tomorrow, the coming week is supposed to be warm and dry, so I anticipate being able to turn them often, if not every day. That should help stretch our hay supply until this year's cutting is available.

I managed the 'herd' the same way as the first time they were turned out together. First I turned Lance into the arena by himself. He rolled, ran and bucked – for about a minute and a half. Then he looked for something to eat.
Helpful Lance pruning the maples that overhang the arena

I turned him out into the pasture,

and went and got the other three to work out their kinks in the arena before meeting up with Lance in the pasture. Oh, how they cut up!

Who knew Ollie is the most valuable horse we own?!? (With inflation, each rollover has to be worth $1000 now, not the $100 I heard as a child. :-)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Looking back and looking forward

My Oregon Dressage Society awards came in the mail this week. Rather than sticking them on a shelf with at least two other years' worth, I decided to pull out my plaque and get them all mounted.

Wow, that represents a whole lot of my horse history! The only dressage horses not included are Silver Ciera, a Paint we owned when I was first introduced to the sport, and Lance. In a year I will be adding a plate for Lancelot Dun Dino with at least the results of the two shows we already have under our belt/girth. Three years from now I hope to need another plaque!

My back is feeling enough better that I hope to ride a little bit on Sunday. Lunging is not a very effective method of conditioning or schooling Lance. I've been calling him lazy, but it has occurred to me that a lazy horse would not be so quick to engage with me at every opportunity. I mean, if he's turned out in the arena and I call, he trots up to me. A lazy horse wouldn't bother, or at best would take his sweet time. No, I think Lance just doesn't see the point in going around in circles, at the end of a lunge line OR under saddle. I may have to bite the bullet – or, more accurately, take a bite out of my bank account – and have shoes put on him the next time the farrier is here. That way we can ride out and about on the hill's gravel lanes. Years ago when I was training Axel (Rogue Hills Galaxy on the plaque), we did most of our schooling on roads and in fields; I had to haul somewhere to use an arena. I always said that our accomplishments (USDF All-Breed Awards from First Level through Prix St. George) would seem even more impressive if people knew the unconventional path we took to reach them! (Unfortunately, most of the fields, orchards and logging roads I had access to then are no longer available.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

From back to back

Yesterday was the end of Lance's two weeks of back rest, so I decided to lunge him with full gear. Laura lent me her synthetic Toulouse saddle with interchangeable gullets as a fitting option; Rick said it does fit Lance better than my Black Country so I used the Toulouse as a lunging surcingle. He moved very nicely with saddle and side reins, so that was good to see.

I was so curious to see if Laura's saddle fits ME, so after checking to make sure that no lump had formed during lunging, I mounted (from the arena fence, as usual). My back complained; the saddle tips me forward. I rode around for just a little bit at the walk, and then jumped off. Ouch! My back – more accurately, the right side of my S/I – was NOT happy. Was all this pain from just sitting in the saddle, or did I do something by mounting from the offside? I hobbled back to the barn and put Lance away.

When Rick got home I was in the barn picking stalls. I greeted him and asked about his day, and he responded, "Are you hurting?" That obvious, huh? Well, we have been down this road before. When Brian was a baby my back "went out," giving me a months-long taste of what my dad has been dealing with for years. An MRI revealed a small annular tear in my low back. Since then I've been somewhat careful – not bucking hay like I used to, for instance. I've had small flare-ups occasionally, but nothing major. Anyway, last night I took two naproxen sodium tablets and went to bed – once I managed to get my socks off. Reaching toward the floor, especially with my right hand, was excruciating.

This morning I had to have Rick put my socks on; I burst into tears trying. Looks like Lance's back gets a longer break....

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lazy, lovable Lance

Yesterday I put Lance in the arena for some exercise. Had to shush him around with the lunge whip to get him to exercise, because after rolling,

this is all he really wants to do:

So shush him around I did, with camera at the ready. I caught him in a lovely uphill, positive DAP trot,

and a lofty moment of canter.

But he's always looking to either stop and grub around, or come trotting up to me. Have I mentioned lately how much I like this horse?

Lance isn't a 'dressage horse' (as opposed to a horse who does dressage); he doesn't have the natural self-carriage and suspension that comes from generations of breeding for the sport, or the fire that makes for a brilliant (if difficult) competitor. But I know from experience how dressage can transform a horse from an 'ugly duckling' into a 'swan,' and Lance is by no means an ugly duckling – just a young goose. ;-)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Simple set-up

I'm still exercising Lance during these two weeks of 'back rest.' Sometimes I free-lunge him in the arena; sometimes I put a bridle and lunge line on him for a more structured work-out.

Even when twisted and tied up with the throat latch, reins are a bit of a hassle, so today I grabbed an old bridle with a single-jointed loose-ring snaffle attached, removed the reins, and used it for a lunging headstall. The color looks good on him – just as it did on the bright chestnut Swedish Warmblood mare I originally purchased it for many years ago.
Notice the fuzzy spot at the middle of his crest? This is what it looks like on the other side:

Yeah, SOMEone has been rubbing his mane out! :-(
Yeah, YOU!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Getting to the bottom of the bump

Sunday evening Rick ultrasounded Lance's back. I had ridden earlier so Rick could be sure of the lump locale, and had a very nice ride with the best canter work yet.

Anyway, at first Rick didn't see anything amiss. Then he muttered something about "awfully close." I said, "What? His spinous processes? You mean, like 'kissing spine'?" ACK! Eventually, he pointed out some areas on the ultrasound that looked inflamed, but told me he wanted to x-ray the area as well before attempting a diagnosis – and before I started freaking out. Too late....

No, really, I didn't obsess about it too bad, but I did do a little looking online and was surprised by what I learned. I thought kissing spine was an affliction caused by bad riding or terrible tack, but this article points out that there is thought to be a genetic predisposition in some horses, and that it's suspected to occur in 39% of ALL horses!

Somewhat relieved to learn that kissing spine is NOT the kiss of death, I waited for the next step. Thankfully, Rick made time on Tuesday afternoon to take x-rays.

The conclusion? Lance's back looks normal and sound, except for one little "nipple" on the back edge of one spinous process. Rather than kissing spine, it looks like Lance has "inter-spinous desmitis." That bony "nipple" is likely at a ligament insertion spot, a reaction to strain or injury – and a good candidate for shockwave therapy.

Yesterday morning Rick did the shockwave treatment . . . the third time in a week we've made a druggy out of my young horse! Sure hope he's not developing a 'habit'....  ;-)

So now we wait. Erring on the side of extreme caution, Rick wants me to keep everything off Lance's back for a couple weeks (setting saddles on to look at fit is okay). No restriction on movement, though; Lance can be turned out, free-lunged, or lunged with just head gear. It will be interesting to see if I can detect any difference in his movement during this time. He has never shown any classic symptoms of back pain, but under saddle his trot has never felt as free as I remember it being back in September when I tried him out.