After the crazy situation that caused me to fall off on cross country at our last Horse Trials, and being snowed-out of the schooling show that followed, I was determined to get to another event and put the bad juju behind us.
I registered us for a horse trials at Chattahoochee Hills, but the weather had different plans. Remember last year when I said it had been raining since, well, forever? Yeah. It hadn’t stopped, and it had been especially bad the weeks leading up to this event. We were supposed to go schooling at Ashland Farm the week before but their XC field was closed. Then I had to go out of town for a wedding, so that only left the Wednesday a few days before the event itself…
Well, the Wednesday cross country schooling also got rained out, so I scheduled a flat lesson with coach Lauren New of River Birch Farm instead. I had ridden JJ the day before and he felt fine, but during our warm-up he was off to the right. Totally fine to the left, but to the right… no bueno. I texted Lauren and told her to head back home (she drives out to where I board to coach me, so kind of her!) and immediately dismounted to take care of him.
While I was busy thinking “maybe this is a sign that I just shouldn’t show – especially since I haven’t jumped since I fell off three weeks ago” and convincing myself to give up, Lauren generously came up with an alternative and suggested I take her Prelim horse, King, instead. Um WOW! As honored as I was by her offer, I declined since he was for sale and I didn’t want to risk putting a bad score on him. [Update: King has been sold to a great new home, yay!]
The farrier came and said JJ was positive on the left front with the hoof testers, but he couldn’t find exactly where. We assumed it was “just another abscess” and I started treating for that.
Usually, when JJ has an abscess, he is very good about standing in the soaking bucket and will happily keep his foot still for as long as I ask. This time, though, he was fidgety and kept wanting to step out. I thought it was odd for him, and had the suspicion he was trying to tell me “no, dummy – that’s not what the problem is this time,” especially since he has such a solid history of super clear communication.
After nearly two weeks with no improvement, and the lameness seeming to switch from the left front to the right front and back to the left front again, I called the vet. She came out, did a lameness exam, agreed it was the left front, and blocked him to his heel to confirm. JJ was immediately sound and even looked significantly happier in his face. So, then we X-rayed but found nothing definitive, and decided to start with a shoeing change.
The farrier came back and reset JJ according to the vet’s instructions. I gave him another week to adapt, but, still nothing had changed…
The vet came back and suggested we do coffin joint injections at this point. She recommended giving JJ three days off, then getting on and walking him for a few days.
I was thrilled to be able to throw a leg over his back for the first time in three weeks, and happily saddled up the following Tuesday to take a leisurely stroll around the property. That was the exact opposite of what happened…
From the moment I (gently) landed in the saddle, JJ was on edge. He took two steps from the mounting block and immediately reared. He came down and reared again – straight up in the air like a wild horse in a Hollywood movie. He had also unseated me in the process because I was just so incredibly confused that my “Saint JJ” was acting this way, I couldn’t even comprehend what was going on. So, as he was in the air and I was weirdly sitting in front of the saddle on his withers, I wrapped my arms around his neck to try and keep myself from getting majorly hurt.
He came down, and, as I was still holding on for dear life, he dropped his head and neck, lifted his back, and HURLED ME into the dirt like a freakin’ National Finals Rodeo bucking horse. He basically bodyslammed me into the ground, and damn it was nasty. In my 25+ years of riding, this was easily one of my “Top 5” worst/scariest falls…
Never in a million years would I have ever expected my sweet, sane, safe horse to act even remotely close to that.
Amazingly, I wasn’t hurt. JJ had earned himself a little time on the lunge line, of course, and he ran around with huge eyes looked just as freaked out as I felt. After, I went home to shake it off, have a much-needed cocktail, and question what the hell had happened.
I talked to a few friends who suggested “maybe he was just feeling great after the injections!” but I knew that was absolutely not the case. I know my horse, and I know his behavior – this was a pain response, plain and clear. This was him shouting at me to “GET THE F*CK OFF!”
I went back to lunge him the next day, and had planned for him to only walk. Instead, JJ trotted and cantered around me for 30 minutes, completely on his own. He was definitely still a little off (the right front now) but seemed totally eager and totally happy to work himself. Weird!
I also knew I needed to get back on, even just for a second. So, with JJ appropriately tired, I asked my barn owner to hold him as I mounted and then give me a “pony ride” for one lap around the arena. I have no problem admitting I was terrified. I was shaking. I can’t even remember the last time I was that scared to get on a horse… probably never.
I went to the barn again on Thursday, and it as more of the same – JJ still wasn’t 100%, but he still really wanted to trot and canter on the lunge! So, he got 20 minutes of work plus 20 minutes of walking, and then I got on all by myself and walked one lap, still beyond scared but I knew I needed to push myself to do it.
The vet came back that Friday and was just as confused as I was that the injections hadn’t helped and that now the lameness was on the *right* front instead of the left like before. She did two more blocks but still couldn’t isolate it.
With no answers, and with my horse having been off for a month now, I posted a video to Facebook asking for advice. Maybe there was something we were missing… and I was desperate to get him some relief.
People posted tons of helpful suggestions, but it was Kathryn Schiess from The Perfect Ride Equine Bodywork who had some interesting insights and ideas that really got my attention. I’ve known Kathryn for years and she worked on JJ back in 2016, so I asked her when she could get out to see him and she said she could come out Sunday. Perfect!
For those of you who don’t know Kathryn, she’s a miracle worker. She addresses the “whole horse” and looks for the root cause of the issue, not just the quick fix. She takes her time and really listens to the horse’s body. Watching her work is absolutely amazing. She spent an entire day on JJ, and I could already see a huge improvement in his overall balance and energy.
As I had hoped, Kathryn found a lot of issues that could have easily been causing his lameness. I had “vacuumed” him the day before she came out and he was incredibly reactive in the hind end, which was unusual, and she confirmed with her visit that he had been having trouble there… which easily could have manifested as front end lameness. I was feeling hopeful, and prayed we had found the trouble.
Kathryn suggested giving JJ a day or two to “settle” into his new body and to be able to get comfortable moving around since things were so much looser now. I came back to assess him on Tuesday and… nothing. No change. Still lame.
Even though I’m feeling so incredibly defeated, I know I can’t give up troubleshooting – that wouldn’t be fair to JJ. As much as this sucks for the both of us, I’m trying to remember to count my blessings.
Despite being bad news, the timing is actually good news… with all the Coronavirus closures and the current ban on shows/events, I’m just grateful we aren’t missing anything because it’s not like we could compete even if we wanted to. There’s always a silver lining, right? :-\
Count your blessings. While it sucks that JJ is lame and has been off for over a month, I’m grateful that it happened at such a “convenient” time for us – in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown – because at least we aren’t missing out on anything…