Challenges everywhere right now – not ‘just’ the North American Horsewoman’s Challenge. That’s an understatement, but let’s keep to the youngster right now, and he’s throwing ‘em up everywhere – my brain cells are tired!
When he arrived back at Easter, underneath that cascade of thick black mane was one supremely knotted neck, with ligaments along the topline stretched taut as piano-wires. I call it the ‘broken neck’ syndrome – when the neck can’t turn smooth in a bend, but makes itself into two sides of a right-angle ahead of the wither. His topline frame from poll to tail-end was inverted, muscles, tendons and ligaments clenched tight, preventing supple and repairing blood flow, and what in acupuncture terms is referred to a ch’i. Energy flow, life’s blood really.
Thus, too, the topline was inverted, the poll skewed to left at the atlas joint, with knots along the shoulder line, and constant resting of one hind leg or another indicating the sacroiliac joint probably wasn’t very happy either. Oh, and a low, set tail carriage.
As I mentioned in the last blog, there was definitely a mental block too, particularly when working on the left rein. I was querying which came first. Well, another ‘duh’ moment here, as I really should know better, having re-started difficult and yes, challenging, horses for years. I estimate these days, about 95% of behaviour problems start with pain issues.
If you are interested in learning more about the biomechanics of the horse, a thoroughly solid book – with a DVD including a digital sketching of a horse’s skeleton in movement – is Tug of War, Classical Versus Modern Dressage, by German veterinarian Gerd Heuschmann. Gillian Higgins’ Horses Inside Out series and videos, which often include a horse’s skeletal and muscle frame painted, very accurately, atop the hide, are also excellent. Even better for understanding horse-human balances are her rider and horse skeletons painted on, in demonstrations. YouTube her for more information.
Equine physio/massage therapists crop up all over these days – from those with a weekend course certificate (really?!), to solidly qualified veterinarians and registered equine massage therapists. Word-of-mouth recommendations rate high in my initial interest in their services. Sundai Oulton has sorted out my horses for over a decade now, qualifying with over 2,000 hours of practicum from the B.C. Equine College (which has blessed Alberta with a number of talented practitioners). It’s-all-Good, aka Mops, has had two sessions now, with a final third one lined up in a month’s time when the topline is stronger, more toned. Sundai wants to finish off just above the tail area.
And, in fact, they were heading that way as she got absorbed in that area, forgetting he’s still pretty wary about humans close-up and personal. Mops, meanwhile, was so enjoying the experience he was almost dozing off – before suddenly waking up and realizing, horrors! a human is perhaps about to chop off his tail and vaporizing five feet left. Sundai instinctively leapt to the right, an amazing sight that has me laughing still when I think of the moment, the two of them shallow breathing and looking just a bit sheepishly at each other.
Next aim is getting those back feet really well-balanced, more long lines and lateral work (side-passing if you’re thinking western!), shoulder-in and shoulder-out walks and trots on large easy circles, get the lateral ligaments and muscles stretching along the outer ribcage (releases the diaphragm and breathing muscles), and making sure the saddle fit, which will start to really change now as the muscles build, bulk up differently, is really prime.
Time, time, time…and we’re running supremely tight on that now. Ouch. Having to ease off working out until that topline’s free and loose and easy, and there’s no pain to dwell on as a memory, and putting your mind into neutral, refusing to push the pace too hard, ease off mentally, breathe, Pam, breathe! Sideways instead…think lateral. So, starting practicing loading now and trailering – that’s one heck of a long haul southwards to Oklahoma – and a million small details that aim at being at least 25% better at home as a competition bottom line of acceptability – and they’re all adding to one hell of a cumulative challenge…