Yesterday was a good day, despite some difficult twists and turns. The biggest highlight of my day, and probably my week, was that I got to sit on the back of my horse, Hero, who is recovering from a bad ligament strain (possibly even a tear; we're not sure.)
This Sunday will mark the tenth consecutive week that Hero has spent in a box stall. She originally had an abscessed hoof, and unfortunately the ligament injury was compensatory for that. Poor Hero. The first week or two was really rough. She wouldn't stand on her abscessed hoof and she couldn't stand on her injured leg, so she literally spent more than a week standing on two legs, only setting the tips of her toes down to balance occasionally. She already has leg issues, as she as malnourished as a foal, and her front legs are two different lengths, her right foot being somewhat clubby. The vet, and my own trainer whom I really look up to, told me that she'd be a good school horse but she'd probably never excel at anything. Before her injury, however, she was working on second level movements in dressage including half pass and she was really starting to collect, and she had jumped 3'9" with beautiful form and ease... psh... That's excelling in my book!
I kept a pressure wrap on her leg for more than eight weeks straight, changing it several times a week and dealing with poor Hero's irritated antics (kicking, biting, shoving, head waggling..) because the poor thing is so bored in that stall. She is used to being turned out 24/7, and she took her playing in the field very seriously before this. For the first month, I kept her in her stall in the middle of the barn and she was outright MEAN to anybody or any horse that came by. She would lunge through the opening by the grain bin and try to bite, she would spin and kick if you came into the stall... it was scary. She has been one of the most sweet, albeit expressive horses I've ever known, and this is where she started to make her opinion very clear.
After a month or so I moved her to the very last stall in the barn so that she could see her friends in the field and so they could stick their heads over the gate to visit when they come up for water. There was an instant change in Hero. She became friendly again and stopped some of the neurotic behaviour she'd had before I moved her.
So, flash forward to this week: Hero's pressure wrap has been off for more than a week now and she has been working in hand at both the walk and trot soundly. At one point the other day I went to introduce her to a new friend that she'd be recovering with in the small paddock eventually. When she saw him, she pulled free from me and bolted around the muddy paddock for five minutes, galloping, twisting, spinning and kicking up... all the while this was happening I kept having flashes of her leg, ballooned up, and myself signing her over to a retirement home. Blech. I finally caught her, thanks to a fantastic student who ran out with a bucket of grain, and shoved her in a stall for a few hours while I taught, trying not to think about what she'd just done to her leg.
When I came back to her after teaching, her leg was fine, and she was asking for more! So I gave her a few more days of relaxed hand walking and trotting and then I came to yesterday when I decided I would finally sit on her again.
She has been antsy and slightly unpredictable, since she's such a bored horse, but as my butt sat on her back she immediately put on her game face and went to work. It was amazing! She obviously remembers that working in the arena is her job and it doesn't matter if she's been cooped up for months, if she's doing her job, she does it right. What a fantastic work ethic! I rode her for almost ten minutes, just walking her in large figures while asking her to soften and stretch down so her back muscles would get a good work out. It was fantastic.
I'm hoping this is the start to her coming back into real work. For now I'll be hand walking her 3-4 times a week and riding her bareback another 2-3 times a week. Hopefully after she builds some muscle she'll be ready to go back to work! Before her injury, Hero was a fantastic dressage horse and a very promising jumper. When she was jumping 3'-3'9" with me it was with very little effort, but she really never had the forward drive of a competitive jumper. I always assumed it would come with time, but maybe this is a sign that she shouldn't jump. My plan for now is to keep babying her until the end of February, when I'll make the decision to keep her on as a school horse or to sell her to someone who will use her more lightly to prevent further injury, something I don't particularly want to think about.
Still, that's a decision for down the road. Yesterday was a huge triumph for both of us, and I'm so happy to see that she's ready and willing to go back to work. Horses are really amazing creatures...