From Endurance to Dressage
Speedy's well ... for now ... again. For how long though, I never know.
For the past several years, my speedy pony has had an issue in the right front. A few years ago, I took him to Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center, a premier facility with state of the art equipment for both diagnosing and treating horses. Without an MRI, Dr. Carter Judy could only guess at a diagnosis: the collateral ligament was injured, or Speedy had a deep bruise. He was certain it was in the foot itself though.
After time off and a recheck by my own vet, we still don't know what's wrong with him for sure. He'll be perfectly sound for weeks and months, and then all of a sudden he'll be three-legged lame. There's no warning, no gradual lameness, no wonky step. He'll be acutely lame for two or three days and then the lamenss will fade over the next ten to twelve days.
My farrier thinks Speedy is bruising himself by striking his front hoof with the hind. He lives in bell boots, and I even recently switched to a really thick bell boot, but that hasn't helped.
Most of the time that Speedy comes up lame, I know why. It's nearly always the result of him pacing his fence line and whirling on the turn around. This last time, Speedy was uncharacteristically high while I was riding, so rather than fight with him, I put him in the round pen and let him work out his wiggles. He was lame the next day.
No more round pen for him.
The lameness doesn't worry me, but it does make me a bit sad. Speedy is only 12 years old. For an Arabian, that's quite young. I want him to have a long and productive life, so I am working hard to minimize these bouts of lameness. He no longer gets turned out in the arena to play, but he does get turned out every night. With the ranch so quiet at that time, he's less likely to pace and fret as horses don't come and go.
He's also on Platinum Performance which has some joint support among many other benefits. If it is bruising though, nothing other than bubble wrap is going to help.
The silver lining in all this is that once he's sound again, like this week, he's pleasant to ride and happy to get back to work. For his first ride back, after two weeks off, I hacked him around the neighborhood at a walk to let him just move and stretch, On our way home, I stopped by the old golf course for some trot work. He felt fantastic. Even with all of the starts and stops in our work together, he always picks up right where we left off.
He may be finished with his show career (but maybe not), but he's still a really fun horse to ride.
It's been almost a year since Speedy has been to a show. Sometimes I get a bit disappointed that we still haven't made it to Second Level, but Speedy doesn't really care, and I am just glad that he's sound and healthy.
Since he injured himself in turnout last March, I've taken my time getting him back into work. I started working him in July, but I started with two weeks of gentle lunging. That progressed to a few minutes a day of trot until we worked up to walk/trot rides of 20 minutes or so. In August, I introduced a few minutes of cantering each day, first doing it on the lunge line. Not once has he taken a wrong step or had even the slightest bit of filling.
Now, mid-September, Speedy is back in full work. We have started doing canter lengthenings, canter to walk transitions, and 10-meter circles. And surprisingly, we're right back where we were. And if anything, we might be even more ahead. His canter is getting really balanced.
Over the last seven months, his top line has definitely suffered, but he didn't get fat, and I was able to keep his cardio fitness at a reasonable level. He never huffs and puffs during our work, but I am careful about how much I ask him to sit. Collection is hard when your butt muscles have almost disappeared.
There's a USDF show at the end of October that I was aiming for, but I realized it falls on the same weekend as a family wedding. No one is going to let me miss that. I am not sure I'll have a lot to choose from after that, but it makes me feel good that Speedy is ready to show at First Level right now without any reservations.
I think a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado is definitely in our near future. I'll be curious to hear what she thinks about our comeback prospects.
We go on vacation for two weeks almost every summer. It's hard to leave my horses for that long, but the upside is that being gone for so long reminds me of how much I truly enjoy riding. Saddling up that first time after so many weeks out of the saddle is like coming home. When we ride day after day, we get used to the smell of hay, the warm muscles rippling under your hand, and the feel of smooth leather in your fingers. It all comes alive when you've been gone for a while.
My first ride on Izzy was a bit awkward for both of us. He was pretty tight-backed even though I had lunged him first, and when I asked for a trot, I was reminded of how big he really is. The ground looked a lot farther away than I remembered. I didn't ask for much. We trotted a few 20-meter circles, and then did a few changes of rein across the diagonal. That was it.
The second ride went much better. I lunged him again in the sliding side reins, and he definitely started to relax more than he had the day before. My riding legs returned, and I remembered where we had left off. On the lunge line, I've been asking him to spiral in to me so that he's doing a small volte around me at the trot. When he's soft on the line, I slowly send him back out on the circle letting him stretch down and lengthen his stride.
This is a fun exercise because it really asks him to step deeply with his hind leg while maintaining a good inside bend. Once I am in the saddle, I can repeat the exercise, and I always get a good response from him.
After I leg yielded out from the volte, I quietly asked for a canter. I am learning that he needs to me to sit very lightly and be prepared to go into two-point for the first few canter strides. And as counter-intuitive as it may seem, I also have to be ready to add leg when he humps up his back and starts to buck. We went though a few bucking strides before he finally relaxed his back and cantered forward.
Once I felt him let go through his back, I was able to take a light seat and ride him forward. I was grinning ear to ear. After a few reminders of how to pick up the correct lead, we cantered both directions. I know this seems like baby stuff, but I am really pleased that after almost three weeks of no work - just turn out, I was able to hop on and get right back to work.
I was so pleased with him that I scheduled a lesson for this coming Tuesday, and I mailed off two entries for schooling shows in July. I signed up for Intro A and B because right now, he just needs more exposure. Once he can handle the atmosphere and can pick up the canter a little more reliably, we'll move up to Training Level.
But what of Speedy? Speedy officially can go back to work. For the month of July, we can do walk and trot, and in August we can start to canter. Before leaving for vacation, the vet had given the okay for walking rides on firm ground. Several times a week, I hopped up on Speedy bareback with a halter and rode around the neighborhood for 30 minutes.
While the walking rides gave him some level of fitness, he's still out of shape. I decided to begin his trot work on the lunge line. This is the second day on the line, right as I asked for the trot.
While he looks sluggish and totally on his forehand, I love that he is sound. As we worked, he developed a bit more impulsion, but he spent the entire time trying to stretch down. I worked him for 10 minutes the first day and 15 the next. I let him walk 1 - 2 minutes to warm up followed by 2 minutes of trotting. I then asked him to walk another minute and then trot again for 2 minutes. Then we changed directions and did the same the other way. I use the timer on my watch to make that we don't over do it.
I think I'll lunge him for a week, adding my saddle in a day or two. After that, it's just a matter of building his fitness back up slowly over the month. I worked hard to keep his weight low over the four months he was off, so that part shouldn't be an issue. The thing I want to watch is that he stretches and strengthens the tendon gradually.
It's good to be back home!
By the way, I have to run up to the cabin for the night to take care of some tree removal (bark beetles plus four years of drought have devastated California's forests), so I won't be around to post tomorrow morning.
It would be nice if this was the last ultrasound EVER, but it probably won't be. It was (hopefully) the last one for this particular injury. Two months ago, Speedy over-did it in turnout and suffered a small bit of damage to the superficial flexor tendon.
I don't minimize things just to make myself feel better. When I say this was a slight injury, I mean it. There was only a small bit of swelling that lasted less than a week, and after just one pressure bandage, it never returned. When Dr. Tolley did the initial ultrasound, just days after the injury, he had a hard time diagnosing the injury as a classic "bowed tendon." There was some iffy shading on the ultrasound image, but it was small and could have even been a blood vessel.
Since there was swelling and lameness, we both felt that it was only right to treat it as at least a moderate injury. And truly, Speedy did hurt the tendon, but it was not nearly as bad as it could have been.
Speedy spent four weeks standing in his stall with a pressure bandage with minimal hand walking and no turn out. At the end of a month, we did a follow up ultrasound that showed the previous "damage" had healed, but the tendon in question was slightly thicker than its partner. Speedy spent the next four weeks in two different Gelocasts. To his relief, he was allowed full access to his paddock and hand walking became part of his routine.
Over this past weekend, we went back to BVH for a third ultrasound. Again, the image confirmed that the original injury site looked the same as the other leg, but the tendon was still slightly enlarged. When I asked Dr. Tolley how much larger it was, he showed me how the machine calculated the size of the affected area.
The right tendon was 0.5 cm² larger than the left - a very small difference. In fact, the difference could be related to the injury, or since we don't have a pre-injury measurement, it could simply be that his two tendons have never been the same size.
Since I have another horse to ride, I am in no hurry to get Speedy back to work. Dr. Tolley was relieved to hear that. In his opinion, more time off would only ensure a full recovery. On the flip side, horses who stand around and do nothing are much more prone to additional injury than are their hard-at-work buddies.
Bone and soft tissue need to be exercised to keep them healthy and strong. Standing around only weakens those structures making them much more susceptible to an injury if a horse were to spook suddenly or be frightened by say the recent thunderstorms we've been having. With that in mind, Dr. Tolley cleared Speedy for walking rides around the neighborhood.
These walking rides will do several things. First, the road surface is firm which will not put any stress on the tendon. Speedy will also be able to get moving which will help him not only dissipate some of the build-up of energy, but it will help maintain at least a small amount of muscle fitness while keeping joints somewhat lubricated. The final benefit will be to his brain. Having a job, no matter how simple, will keep him much happier.
In less than 5 weeks, my husband and I will be heading to Italy for 16 days. Knowing that we're going to be leaving for such a lengthy trip makes it even easier to give Speedy the extra time to rest. So between now and our departure date, Speedy will get to "trail ride" a few days a week. He'll then get more than two weeks of rest from the walking work while we're gone.
When I get back, Dr. Tolley laid out a back-to-work plan that includes walking and careful trotting in July with a return to some canter work in August. By the end of August, we can be back to our full riding routine.
I guess if your horse needs time off, a European vacation is probably the best way to help the rider cope with the stress of not riding!
Well, not the last bandage ever. Anyone who has followed my equine story knows that I am quickly becoming an expert in all aspects of bandaging. What I mean to say is that I finally applied the last bandage that Dr. Tolley prescribed before our next, and hopefully, last ultrasound.
To catch you up, six or seven weeks ago, Speedy got a little bit wild during turn out. A day or so later I noticed a very slight swelling on the back of his tendon, and he was decidedly lame. Dr. Tolley diagnosed it as tendonitis (too small to be called a "bow").
Dr. Tolley created a treatment plan that involved several months of rest and bandaging. For the first month, Speedy was confined to his stall only, no paddock access, and I changed out a pressure bandage every other day. At month's end, a follow up ultrasound showed that the slight damage to the tendon had healed, but it was still slightly thicker than the healthy one.
Dr. Tolley recommended a cast for two weeks followed by a second cast for the following two weeks. I applied cast number two over the weekend.
Bowed tendons are certainly not anything that an owner wants to deal with, but they can heal well and permanently with proper care. Speedy's injury was very slight, but Dr. Tolley is treating it as conservatively as possible to ensure a full recovery. After the first pressure bandage was removed, all swelling at the injury site disappeared, never to return.
While the "divot" at the base of the tendon looks dramatic, it was actually really hard to see (and even feel) until the hair was shaved away. That thickened area has also disappeared.
Seeing how Dr. Tolley's cast needed a bit of shoring up, I preempted Speedy's desire to chew away the knot by doing a top layer of vet wrap (not pictured). This cast will stay on for another two weeks. Following that, Speedy will again visit Dr. Tolley for a third ultrasound. Since getting the first Gelocast, he's had access to his paddock and is allowed to go on walks.
A few times over the past week he's tried to let loose in his paddock. He looked fantastic with zero lame steps. I don't encourage any play, but it's hard to keep such a large animal confined. A grazing hand walk at least every other day has been enough to keep him pretty happy.
I know he misses being worked and played with, but the time is passing quickly. Before he knows it, he'll be grouching and grumbling at me as we return to schooling the walk to canter to walk transitions.
Just take it easy, Speedy G; we're not done yet.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%