Monday, April 19, 2010

Waiting Game

Friday did not go as expected.  I got to the barn, saw Lisa teaching one of S's other students, so I headed to the barn to groom P up and get her ready.  Except when I got to her stall I saw sweat marks.

Bummer, I thought. she already rode, oh well, I'll groom and we can talk about it.  guess I'll grab video the next time she comes out..

Which is when her fiance (who does a lot of their "training" particularly with "problem horses") came up to me.

He apologized profusely for working her before I got there and said he'd be more than happy to get back on if I wanted to see anything.  No, that's ok, Yes I trust him, Yes I want to "watch" someone else work her, No it doesn't have to be today...

Which is when we started talking about P's hind end. 

"Have you noticed she's short-ish on that right hind?" (yes)
"she seems to work out of it a bit"  (yes)
"she slips out with that leg a bit. doesn't seem to happen to the left" (I know)

He made a lot of observations I had (plus a few), but since she was doing her best to be a bitch to the new guy, he wanted to know more about her while he was trying to figure out what was attitude, and what might be her trying to avoid discomfort.

The more we talked, the more I felt my stomach drop.  All the pieces pointed to something hurting her.  I just have no idea what that is.

Let's back up.

When I was first test riding her, I felt the same shortness.  Her old owner told me that she's stiff to the right, and picks more of a fight about bending that way, moving off your leg and her canter transitions.  At that point it didn't feel like ANYTHING other than her stiff side.

The second time I rode P she had just had a shoe reset, so when I started noticing that shortness, we (all) assumed maybe her foot was a little tender from throwing (then reattaching) her shoe.  It made sense.

Then, in the past month, we've been working through her "testing" me.  The only incident involved her bucking like a god damn bronco when we asked for the canter to the right.  Ok, she was back sore.  New saddle and trimmed toes seemed to work wonders.  But she's still "stiff" to the right.

Her stiffness is getting more obvious for a couple reasons. 
1) I'm getting a feel for her, and starting to notice smaller things.
2) she's getting more balanced in general, so the difference between her big, relaxed trot tot he left and her stunted trot to the right is more noticable.
3) she's lengthening her frame more, and I'm asking her to really push with her butt.  She does, but mostly off her left.

I've attributing a lot of our "arguments" to her testing me.  And since they are getting smaller and less frequent it has seemed like we are on the right path. 

BUT, talking with Darren spurred some doubts. 

1) he saw the stiffness right away and almost untacked her immediately, but called S and she said that P usually warms up out of it (this is true)
2) he did about 40 minutes of ground work with her and when asking her to spiral in and out of her circle noticed that she refused to step under and cross over with her right hind.  No problem crossing over with her left hind.
3) when he got on he felt her REALLY object to his right leg and seat. so he stayed at the walk and tried to just suss her out a bit.

So then we start talking, when does she buck/kick out with me, does she slip, is she supple, how is she on the ground, everything.

And here's the relevant stuff I regurgitated: 
  • She fights me in our canter transitions, WAY more to the right than left.
  • She doesn't like me balancing her in the canter
  • she REALLY doesn't like me balancing in the canter to the right, especially if I close my leg and ask her to step under.  (in fact this is when she usually lets out her "big" bucks).
  • she'll do baby leg yields away from my left leg like a champ.
  • when I move her away from my right leg, the ears pin and tails swishes.
  • when I pick her feet she always holds her hooves nicely for me.  except her right hind.  That she usually shakes a couple times before letting me hold it.
  • she rests her right hind more than her left.  and when she rests her right hind she pops her hip more than with her left...
  •  when we have clean canter transitions to the right its because she's on her forehand and "pulling" herself into them, not sitting back and pushing into them.
Oh.  Damn.  this is WAY more consistent than I had noticed.  Then his next question -

"Did you vet check her?"

uhhhhh..... no.

Double damn. 

While I have no idea what her muscles/joints look like I know this:
She's young, and inexperiened, we're probably not talking about overuse here.  She's had REALLY limited work under saddle and nothing strenuous like galloping cross country or hammering her knees in lots of jumping gymnastics.

She has good conformation to the eye.  Everything is straight and balanced. nothing looks weird or mismatched that would inherently cause undue stress to her right hind.

That's it. That's all I know.

Since Darren doesn't know Pia well, and since she was giving him her full alpha mare song and dance, he wanted to look more at what's attitude and what's physical.  We made a date for Sunday to bute her up and then work her.  See if the bute masked/changed anything.  If she moved more freely or stopped the tail swishing with everything to the right... we need to look further.  If nothing changed? maybe this is her lazy crutch and evasion tactic.  Basically it was our version of a general baby nerve block. (how sophisticated).

(I will say that Darren was impressed that P seemed to consider me "alpha" since she was significantly more responsive to me on the ground, and respectful of my space than she was of him.. PROGRESS, yes.  I'll take it where I can... thanks)


First off, barn owner made life difficult by forbidding Darren to ride or teach at our barn.  Great, says, I.  I'm in my gym clothes since I was expecting D to do all the work.  (aside from me loving on mare and feeding treats).  So I groom her up, bute her up and give her a few minutes to soak up the wonderful, wonderful anti inflams while I change and drink my latte.

Finally I finish tacking her (in Darren's Tad Coffin, no less - I want one) and head to the ring. BUT we can't enter, since god forbid anyone lunges during a lesson.  So I have to wait for a cute little girl on her pony to finish her lesson.  Mind you, this pony has bailing twine tied like side reins to prevent him from running away and this little girl a) has a hard time steering and b) can't canter yet. BUT she is, in fact. Jumping.


Little X's, but still. I'm pretty sure I had to prove an independent seat before my trainer let me anywhere NEAR a jump.  Anyway, not the point.  Since it is in fact this girl's birthday, she apparently can't get off until she's does her "birthday jump" which involves placing a box of cupcakes under the jump and everyone singing happy birthday while she trots over it.  My brain starts sending out red flags at this since this seems like a tragically bad idea - Let's review the situation.
  • The pony is a brat.  He looks for an out any way he can.
  • He has BAILING TWINE tied to him for control  (red flag?)
  • The little girl cries whenever she has to lead him (not so brave)
  • The pony managed to dump said barn owner/trainer when she was jumping him last week
  • The little girl cannot canter/sit the trot/turn
  • The pony is now being sort of pointed at a jump with a HOT PINK BOX OF CUPCAKES under it that hasn't been there for the past 6 jumping "efforts."
Any guesses on how this turned out?

As long as you were expecting the pony to dump her OVER the jump ONTO the cupcakes and then run away right about the time everyone was shouting "HAPPY BIIIIIIIIIIIRTHDAY DEAR.............." then you're right.

It took everything in me to not laugh my ass off at the entire situation. But I didn't, cause the girls mom was right next to me.

P, meanwhile is attempting to eat every weed in grasping distance and really couldn't care less about ponies, jumps, crying girls or cupcakes.  Ok, she might have cared about the cupcakes if they were within reach, but they weren't, so she didn't.

FINALLY I get into the ring and go to the far end where Darren is watching, but definitely not riding or "instructing."  Long story short we lunge P, she is obviously more relaxed and less restricted on her right hind, but still "off." not three legged lame off, but just stiff/different/strange.  Her big bucking spree came after asking her to canter right, and she picked up the left lead 3 times.  when she FINALLY got her right lead, she bucked like a monster and did some weird crow hops that basically involved her just hopping her hind legs up off the ground.

I looked at Darren, he looked at me.  Not good.

So I get on.  Attempting to focus on P's back and NOT on how comfortable the Tad Coffin is, I trot her around and start doing lots of figure 8's.  She was amped up, I'm assuming because a) there were 5 other horses lunaticing around, and b) because of the bute?

But she was good, springy, forward, lovely.  Or at least, she was to the left.  Across the center of the ring... sit two, change bend. BAM. short, sticky, unbalanced.  into the corner.... slip. right leg for balance... tail swish, swish swish...
across the center, sit two, change bend to the left. forward, driving, balanced in the turns... lovely.

I did this back and forth for about 10 minutes.  My stomach sank and I didn't need anymore.

Darren confirmed what I felt, a horse moving VISABLY different to the left and right, with a VERY different attitude.  tail swishing, grumpy face, angry Pia.

I hopped off (reluctantly handed his saddle back) and headed for the barn.

I don't have a vet for her yet.  I asked for his input on who is "the best" and "honest" in terms of diagnostic testing, and wasn't surprised when he suggested Dr Fleck.  So, I called, we set an appointment for Wednesday afternoon and that was that. 

Now I wait.  Darren was optimistic.  or at least he sounded optimistic. I'm encouraged that she seems to work out of it, instead of it getting worse during a ride.  And I'm encouraged that it isn't getting catastrophically worse with weeks of work.  I think those are good things.

Or it means her spine is corkscrewed and nothing that I can do will make it better or worse.  Mostly I'm trying not to think about it until the vet gets here and we can learn more.  My hypothesis aren't going to make P or myself feel any better over the next two days.

On the upside, P's skin seems great. way less sensitive and no bumps to be seen.  (yay).  Even through the bugs aren't bad, I'm starting on fly spray vigilance already and eliminating the bug factor.. so far so good on that front.

Fingers crossed for good results.  What I wouldn't give for the vet to say "stretch her, get a chiro out here and bute her up for a week."  That would be music to my ears.


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