A few weeks ago a visitor to the barn was watching Speedy G trail along behind me as I approached the fence to chat. He was doing the classic “peanut roller” walk as he snuffled the dirt for random edible bits. She asked, in a very off-hand way, if he was lame.
And the seed of a giant “worry tree” was planted …
Now, I KNOW that this rider had NOTHING on which to base her observation. I had just finished what I felt like was a very solid ride. Speedy’s ears were flopping to the side. He was doing the “my rider tried to kill me” toe-drag of exhaustion. In all, he did not paint the picture of a horse that was moving out with a gait irregularity. In fact, he was barely moving.
And yet …
That off-the-cuff remark sent me on a two week journey of worry that ultimately ended with me “laming” my pony. After I put Speedy G back in his stall, I replayed the ride in my mind searching for any irregular or missed steps that he might have taken. For the next week, I rode with my ears straining for an uneven clip CLOP footfall. I rode with piercing eyes watching the top of his head for the slightest dip that could be a Head Bob. I poked at his feet, I pinched his tendons, I flexed his neck, and I prodded every muscle looking for the slightest flinch. In essence, I started watering the “worry tree” seed.
Each day I felt myself saying, there, that wasn’t normal! By the second week, my rides started to disintegrate. Speedy G wouldn’t soften. He wouldn’t round up. His nose was as high in the air as it has ever been. Until finally, on the Tuesday before the show, we weren’t schooling at all. We were just fighting one another. I was getting stronger and stronger with my hands until I was literally yanking him around. And then I DID feel a slight bobble. Rather than continue the ride, I let him walk out for a bit and called it quits. I gave him a bath, let him rest a bit, and then put him on the lunge line.
He went well to the left, but to the right he was definitely uneven. His back was hollow and his nose wouldn’t come down. He looked just plain tense. I had a lesson the next evening, and after a walking warm up, we picked up the trot. He immediately took several head-bobbing steps. I stopped, got off, and Coach agreed that the lesson was over. I pulled his saddle, and put him back on the lunge line. Again, to the left he was good, but to the right he was definitely ragged. One stride would look oaky, but the next two would be off. Then he’d have an okay stride followed by a gimpy one. Coach and I looked him over thoroughly, but we couldn’t find anything that “hurt.” There was no heat, filling, tenderness, blood, or anything to indicate an injury. I asked for lateral flexion which he gave willingly. I stretched all four legs forward and backwards which he did softly. Still nothing. With Saturday’s show only three days away, we decided that I would re-evaluate his way of going on Friday and decide from there.
End of Part 1