Friday, November 20, 2015

Ten Things to Do When the HoneyMoon is Over with Your New Horse

Buying a new horse is scary!   I haven't had to do it too many times but each time what should have been a fun experience turned out to be a long drawn out affair that was miserable.  It starts out with excitement but then turns into just pure worry -- What if I buy the wrong one?  What if he goes lame? What if the seller lies me and this horse that seems like a dream is really drugged and will kill me when I get home?  What if I can't ride this horse the way the trainer does and it will just be a dud for me?  What if I shouldn't get a horse at all?

Then you bring the horse home and hopefully - at least in some cases -- the horse is beyond all your expectations.  Of course, your expectations were pretty low because certainly it couldn't be true that you actually bought the right horse!  When I brought my new horse home this summer I couldn't believe how great she was.  She was only four but despite my worries, she was the same sane wonderful mare she was when I saw her at the breeders.  We went on some trail rides and she didn't kill me!  She seemed happy to see me when I came out with her halter and considering I couldn't get her to to walk or canter well when I tried her out, we made some crazy good progress in the ring.   Life was grand!  

Then small stuff started happening -- she decided mounting wasn't her thing, some of the quick progress we were making slowed to what I could optimistically call "stable" and well to put it in a short summary... it just wasn't as grand.

Before I got too far into my head (a dangerous place to be), I had to take a few steps back and realize all was okay and it was just that the honeymoon was over and it was time for the reality of the real work that comes with owning a horse.

Here are some things I realized:
  1. Take inventory of what you have accomplished.  I was feeling as if we weren't getting anywhere but when I thought about it in the three short months we were a team, we had gone on countless trail rides, attended a clinic in a large indoor, attended weekly off farm lessons in different locations, completed our first dressage show, rode with strange horses... well shoot... for a new team and a four year old we had done okay.

  2. Go back to basics.  The dressage pyramid training scale was developed for a reason.    When my mare started hesitating in going forward I realized that maybe we had perhaps gone too far up the pyramid without establishing the base.  The base is Rhythm with Energy and Tempo.  If you don't have a horse moving with energy and tempo, you certainly are not going to get bend. And just because she was able to do all three the day before, does not mean that she will stay there.  If things aren't going well, it probably means you need to step back to the basics.

  3. Try a different method.  When we hit the "hey I don't want you to mount me anymore so I'm going to move my butt away from you" discussion, at first I just tried to stay patient and keep putting her in place at the mounting block.  What I was teaching her was that if she stayed persistent she would win.   If what you aren't doing isn't working, then you need to come up with a different plan.

  4. Get advice.  When I got stuck with the mounting issue, I reached out to my mare's breeder and trainer, a person I trusted because she had done a great job giving her a good start.  She suggested creating a chute so there was no option of moving away.  Of course I should have thought of that myself as I had used it two years ago with another horse but in the heat of frustration and test of patience, I had forgotten.   With that said, if you ask ten horse people for a solution, you will get ten answers so keep it to a minimum who you ask.

  5. Be consistent.  Which brings me to this point.  If you try one thing and it doesn't work and ten seconds later you try something else, its not your horse that is the problem - its you.  All you are creating is confusion.  Give your horse a chance to figure out what you want.  Break it into small bits they can understand and succeed at and then give them the reward of rest.  Then move onto the next bit so they (and you) can succeed at that too.  

  6. Do what you do well and do it often.  Find the thing that you do well and do that for one of your schooling sessions.  It will increase both you and horse's confidence and remind you that riding is supposed to be fun.   Its also important to interact with your horse as much as possible.  Don't worry if you only have ten minutes -- do something in those ten minutes.   The biggest mistake we can make is to wait until we have enough time for a long schooling session.  Frequent is always better, even if its short.

  7. Do something on the ground.    Don't keep banging your head against the proverbial wall.  Do something you and your horse will enjoy.   Spend a whole session just grooming.   Set up some obstacles like a tarp and practice progressively getting your horse used to it so she will cross over.   Work in hand on moving lightly off from a touch.   Set up some jumps and lunge your horse over them. Anything you do on the ground will build your relationship with your horse and make the under saddle work better.

  8. Take lessons.  A good person on the ground consistently giving you lessons is invaluable.   Set the dates up in advance and then show up.  Make them a priority.

  9. Be patient and be realistic.  Its hard to remember sometimes that this horse training takes time and there really is no such thing as the perfect horse.  You may be remembering your prior horse and all the things you could do and forgetting all the work it took to get there.  Or maybe this is your first time not on a school master.  This training stuff takes time.  Not days.  Not weeks.  Years.   Be patient and enjoy the process of learning.   

  10. Give up.  Yup... sometimes you really did purchase the wrong horse. If you have gone through all the things above and someone you trust who is not emotionally tied to the decision agrees that its time to throw in the towel, it may be.   Cut your losses and find your horse a more suitable home.  Then take some time to reflect on what worked and what did not so hopefully the next horse is the one that meets all your dreams.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dressage Clinic with Ulla Parker

I attended a clinic with Ulla Parker on September 13th at the fabulous facility of Cedar Creek Farm.     Ulla Parker is a Danish native and resides on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She is a Master Bereiter and USDF silver medalist. She has trained with and worked for top trainers in both Europe and the States, among them Mikala Gundersen, Lars Petersen and Scott Hassler. She has ridden in clinics with Michael Klimke, Debbie McDonald, Ingo Pape and Steffen Peters.  She won the East Coast Selection Trial for 6 year olds in 2012 and was qualified to go to Verden. In 2014 her students earned Silver medals, Regional Championships, BLM championships and placed in the top 10 at the National Championship. 

If you can’t tell…. Ulla is a great trainer and gets great results!

I have to admit when I saw the lineup of riders I was a bit nervous.   My trainer, who is a fabulous rider of course, was riding two horses at the clinic and some of the other riders were Ulla’s regular students and rode as high as Prix St. Georges and have won multiple medals and awards.   Pretty intimidating company.

I recently purchased a four year old Quarter Horse who is just learning dressage and as a rider I have only shown Intro Level.  I had to wonder if I was shooting a bit high coming to a clinic with so many good riders.  Would I be disappointing to teach?  Would the other riders wonder why someone at my level thought I could come to the same clinic as them?  But I had helped organize the clinic and figured I should certainly attend and do my best.

I arrived shortly after my instructor starting riding so I got to watch some of her lesson.   It was going fabulous of course – her and her student’s horse looked great and Ulla was giving out her trademark phrase of “Yaaaah.   That looks good.”  Not that I wanted something bad to happen during their lesson but I may have felt a bit more confident going into mine if it wasn’t going quite so well!

I was next in the lineup and we began in the walk, working on bend and staying on the circle.    Ulla pointed out that when my mare’s outside shoulder drifted out I needed more inside leg because it meant we were not going forward enough to get the proper bend.  I had been giving her a bit more outside leg so this was a good “aha” moment for me.    Forward movement is key to getting good bend.  Ulla said, “think of it like a bicycle.  If you aren’t going forward enough, you won’t be able to steer.”

She also pointed out that I let my mare get away with bits of naughtiness without correcting it immediately.  For example, there are times she evades by moving off sideways and she reminded me I need to correct it strongly and quickly or she would learn evasion was possible.  It has to be 100% clear to her that she won’t get away with any evasion, ever.

Other items we worked on were the fine line between going with the forward movement without giving it away and making sure the inside hind leg was pushing.  I have a tendency to ask for more forward motion but then guard against what “might” happen.  It’s a bad habit because it will shut down a young horse that should be learning forward is a good thing.   With a little bit of coaching, I got the trot and the kudos from Ulla we were searching for, “Don’t accept anything but this trot…. Yaaaaah!”

I learned a lot during my lesson but I learned something really monumental as I watched the other lessons after mine.   I kept hearing the same things I had heard during my lesson.  Sure they were doing more advanced movements and wow, their horses were beautiful and strong and talented but in the end dressage is about the basics over and over again and even at the higher levels, the basics are essential.

I heard, “Get the hind leg and keep her connected.”  Later when one rider was practicing their counter canter, I heard, “you need to ride counter canter just like you do regular canter – don’t be afraid to let it out and bring it back in.   Be careful she is not running.  She needs to push.  Bring her back in with a quick hind leg.”   And then, “Tell those hind legs to push, not just move.. … yaaah… beautiful!”  

Later I heard, “Goal is to keep the same rhythm in the trot…Collect a bit more but keep the same rhythm.”

Okay… so they were doing much more advanced movements than us but in the end they were still working on keeping the hind leg pushing and keeping a regular tempo, just like me and my mare.   

After the clinic I asked Ulla who she likes to teach, expecting her to say the top level riders.   She surprised me by saying, “what I love is the ‘aha’ moments and that happens at all levels.  I just like to teach someone with an open mind who is willing to learn.”

What an ‘aha’ moment for me.  There is no reason to be intimidated about riding in clinics, no matter the level of the other riders.    Dressage is about where you and your horse are at that moment, trying your best and improving on what you did yesterday.   At every level the basics are still important and something we all go back to over and over again – keep that pushing power going from behind, maintain the bend, straightness and relaxation.

Some other great tips I heard:

  • Half halt before and after the movement so she doesn’t get too strong in your hands.  Always start and finish with a good half halt.
  • The half halt needs to be a little bit stronger when she is not engaging in the back end right at the start so you don’t have to correct so hard later.
  • It’s not enough that she comes back in collection, she needs to keep the swing her back too.
  • Keep steady, positive tension in the reins.  He can’t come through if you keep throwing it away.
  • Use transitions.  Bring her back, push her forward.   Change the transitions up to get that inside hind leg working.
  • Don’t use the outside rein to hold him to the track.  He has to do it because of your inside leg.

So what is my take away message?  Attend clinics!   I hear from folks all the time why they don’t attend – “I don’t like people to see me ride.”  “I need to get more lessons before I can go.”  And my favorite, “I’d be a waste of the clinician’s time.”

You aren’t ever a waste of a clinician’s time.  Remember that they all began at the bottom and most of them begin at the bottom over and over again as they bring along new horses.   What is important is that you come with the open mind Ulla mentioned, the willingness to learn and the ability to listen and work hard during your lesson. 

Hope to see you at the clinics!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Richard Malmgren Long Lining Clinic

Photo by Sophie Ghedin
I had the opportunity to audit a clinic with Richard Malmgren recently.  A native of Sweden, Richard came to the US to become a working student for Scott Hassler and Hilltop Farm.  He eventually became a fulltime employee for Hassler Dressage and played an integral role in building the training and education center at Riveredge, in Chesapeake City, Maryland. In 2013, he formed his own business focusing on his long lining skills.  He splits his time between Delaware and Wellington, Florida.

For this particular clinic, each horse was slotted for a 45 minute long lining work session where Richard worked the horse with some commentary for the owner and auditors so we understood the goals he had for the horse and how the horse was doing.  I watched him work two horses, both with different “issues”.

As he began the work, it was obvious the mare he was working wanted to come into the circle.  As Richard said, “she wants to put her inside shoulder in my lap.”  He quickly moved into the canter as the “canter has tension and tightness so you can use it to fix the straightness and then reinforce in a slower gait.”    He also said he sometimes uses the wall as its easier for the horse to find straightness along the wall.

The owner of the mare reinforced the thought by letting me know that, when “you get on the next day <after he works the mare> its so nice and straight and even in both reins.”

Richard said the goals of long lining are simple and in this order – Straightness, thoroughness/connection, and stretch.  “Long lining is about the basics – not the tricks.   When I work the upper level horses, sometimes the owners think we are going to be doing piaffe but I don’t want them to piaffe because that is their evasion and they are not relaxed when they are doing it.  You can only build muscles once the horse is relaxed.  The recycle of energy happens when you have them relaxed, supple and through.”

“Its like going to the gym and doing so many push ups or sit ups.  I am the coach making sure she doesn’t cheat and encouraging her to do just a little more – ‘No, you didn’t do that chin up all the way – keep going.’”

One goal that seemed to be common with both horses was that Richard wanted the horses to learn that evading or resisting just meant that they needed to work harder because he expected them to ‘carry their own weight’.   He didn’t punish them for spooking or speeding up or really anything they did.  Instead, the horse learned that misbehaving just meant more work and so eventually they settled into their work.  

We discussed when to quit or give breaks and when to be satisfied.   “Knowing when to quit is an art.  Sometimes you don’t go long enough and sometimes you go too long.   For example,   I was about to be satisfied and quit but then she just gave me this big release and relaxed so we kept going for a little longer.  The key is knowing when to stop and give them a break where they don’t need to work.”  He proved his point but shortly after stopping the work and letting the mare amble around for a bit.

That doesn’t mean you are looking for perfection though.  “I want her to stretch a little more – yes!  But we will get there and I am very happy with this.  That is the perfectionist, the ideal.  But this is a huge improvement with more swing in the back so its good enough for now.”

The next horse was much more forward and his evasion was to go forward, buck and go faster.   Richard said the best approach was to ignore the bad behavior and keep with the program and eventually he would come back to him.   “Patience, consistency, persistence.  Keep your cool.  Don’t let him take advantage but if he wants to evade with a bit of exuberance, he will realize he needs to carry himself there and its more work that way.”

Because he was looking for forward energy, a faster gait is okay.  “If he chooses to go up to canter that is okay because I want forward energy.  If he chooses to go down to trot, its my job to push him forward.”

Photo by Sophie Ghedin
Richard pointed out that when he is long lining, he is not on a circle but its more of a diamond shape.  He walks along with the horse’s movement and the diamond shape occurs because he is looking for straightness which is easier to obtain in a diamond or octagon than in a circle.

Once the horse settled into his work, Richard offered the horse the chance to stretch and relax but when he did the transition was not obedient so he started again briefly and once he was working well again, offered the reward of a break again.

I wondered why long lining is so effective – why can’t riding achieve the same goals?   Richard pointed out that, “when spooks happen in the saddle, there is the richochet effect and seat bones, hands or whatever.  But on a long line that does not exist so they have to carry themselves so the horse obtains understanding quicker.”

Ambidexterity is also important.   Most horses are weaker to the right but Richard always starts the horses to the left since that’s the most common way of handling a horse.  Once he knows the horse and if he/she has difficulties to their right he might try to start going that way first to see if the fresh energy of the horse can be used to work the more difficult direction. 

Towards the end of the clinic, Richard summed up one of his end goals – to make the horse feel like a success.  “My job is to set him up for success.  If he can’t hold the canter for long then its my job to get just a few steps of quality canter and then move him back down to trot so he understands and feels good about what he did.   If I get a horse that is scared and worked up by the long lining that never settles down and his nostrils are flaring and breathing heavy when the session is over, I would suggest trying one more time another day and if the result is the same the next time then long lining might not be a tool for that horse.”   Richard quickly added though, “SO far I haven’t had a horse that didn’t end up having a relaxed content look in his eyes and feeling fully proud of himself.“

Monday, October 6, 2014

Interview with Jennifer Clover, Competing at Fair Hill International CCI**

I had the unique opportunity to sit with Jennifer Clover, who qualified and is slated to compete at the Fair Hill International CCI** starting October 15, 2014.      She will be riding Scimitar, owned by Jennifer’s partner, Sam Allan.

 Photo by Myra and Maren McMichael
Jennifer said of her mount, “He is a little older than many going out at this level but each time he goes out I am nothing but grateful.  I am very in-tune to how he feels and I am ready at anytime to say that he has had enough but he keeps saying 'no problem'.  He loves life and loves his job and he knows he is good at it.”  

Scimitar was originally Sam Allan’s mount where she competed him through the  CCI2* and advanced levels when he started having some drainage from his left nostril.  After several vet visits and consultations, a large benign mass was found and removed and it was assumed that was the end of his eventing career. 

However, just as Scimitar was recovering medically, Jennifer’s mare was having some ulcer issues and so Sam offered her Scimitar to do lower level events.  The horse surprised them all as he just kept going and going.   They would pull up from cross country and he was wanting to repeat the course.  So they kept going… trying just one more event and one more level.   And he kept asking for more.   Jennifer has no idea how long or how far he will go but she knows he will tell her when it’s enough and she is listening closely.  

She does what she can to help the big guy do his best.   “I’m a big believer in Flair Nasal Strips, especially for him.  They have made a positive difference. “  

Jennifer started riding at nine years old in the hunter world.   She rode and competed until high school, rode occasionally in her college years.  Then her “real job” in the publishing industry in New York took over and riding took a backseat.  Years later, she landed in St. Mary’s County, Maryland teaching middle school.   A fellow teacher knew someone who needed a young horse to be ridden and the horse bug bit again.  The horse was young and she knew she needed some help so she enlisted the help of Sam Allan who introduced her to eventing and eventually became her business partner.    

 Photo by Myra and Maren McMichael
Moving away from the steady paycheck of teaching was not an easy move.   It began with the opportunity to be the Director of Equestrian Programs for the Greenwell Foundation in Hollywood, Maryland.   Clover managed both Greenwell’s therapeutic riding program and standard riding program in addition to teaching special education in the county school system.   Sam Allan, who was still coaching her, was in the process of opening a 25 stall training and boarding barn in Brandywine, Maryland and convinced Jennifer to take a “leap of faith,” leave her teaching job and begin working in the horse world full time. 

The barn business was a lot of work and they both found it really a “two person thing” that worked better when they did it together.  Jennifer said, “it was easier when you are sharing it with someone – expenses and responsibility.”  For a few years they informally joined forces but then in January 2012 they incorporated as Allan and Clover Sport Horses and made it official.

They make a good team but it’s not without its bit of humor.   In Jennifer’s early years of eventing, she was having a tough time of making it around the Training level course with multiple failures.   When she finally succeeded, she rode over to Sam for a congratulation hug.   The motion startled her horse and next thing you know Jennifer was on the ground and her horse was shooting across the field.   The team learned the lesson of congratulations come AFTER dismounting!

In addition to Sam Allan coaching her, she currently works with R. Scot Evans for the show jumping and Susan Graham White for dressage.  Beyond being an “immense help” to her advancement,  they have also been great supporters.

When I asked Jennifer who else she would want to take a lesson from she said, “Denny Emerson.  I took his clinic a long time ago and I felt his instruction was excellent and he could convey an immense amount of info in a short time span and from his perspective he wants what is best for horse and rider and their welfare.   His point of view is very classical and his emphasis is on horsemanship.  It is something Sam and I really try to teach at home – good fundamentals and horsemanship.”

Another favorite clinician for Jennifer is Lucinda Green.   Jennifer noted that clinics “with her are practical and she has a sense of humor.  She was able to teach ‘feel’ on cross country and that is hard to do.  It’s a gift she has.”  She also liked Lucinda Green because she was willing to tell her students about her failures and fears.  Because of that, Green helped Jennifer understand that you can be a real human and successful at the same time.

When Jennifer and Scimitar competed at Plantation Fields, Scimitar got “really strong on cross country” so they switched out reins and gloves and have done more schooling.   Jennifer remarked, “He has gotten fitter and fitter and a little more full of himself.  I need to make sure I have brakes and steering!”  Overall she feels good going into Fair Hill.  “I feel good about my dressage.  Not perfect -- there are some areas we can neaten up around the edges.  We had a run out at Plantation but that was due to him being strong.   I need to be balanced and organized and we will do fine.”

“As riders we know how to ride and we have these skills but a lot of the question is using those skills in a competitive setting.  I need to get in that zone and stay in that competitive mindset so I remember how to ride.   Be 100% out there for my horse and ride my very best every step the whole time so I can give him the best ride I can.  If I stay present in every step, its slows my brain down.  I ask myself, ‘What do I need to do this step to make the next step better?’”

Her warm up routine is the same for each event.   For dressage, the focus is on getting him “free and over the back and relaxed and letting go and then I pick him up and go through some of the movements.  I really work on that back to get it relaxed.  Before we enter, I need to get him really going forward or he gets excited and tense.”

“For cross country warm up its much of the same of getting him relaxed as he gets excited about what he is doing.  Usually a little gallop to get him warm and a few jumps based on what he will see on course.  I’m pretty conservative for the cross country warm up since he has a big test in front of him.”

Jennifer has the same advice for her students she coaches as she gives to herself.  “Stick with the plan. Ride the rhythm and ride it one stride at a time.   Be ready though if the plan doesn’t go the way you thought.  Have a B plan and a C plan.  Oh… and have fun!”

Jennifer has an impressive support team.   She concurred with, “I have an amazing group of people here.  So impressed with everyone.  We are staying with our friends Laurel and Heather while at Fair Hill.  Of course Sam.   Several students from the barn.   Myra made blue and yellow tie died t-shirts for everyone.  Everyone is so positive and supportive.   Sally Buchheister  (a fellow eventer) was at Plantation and will be at Fair Hill too.  It’s really fun to do this with a good friend.   We stable together and it makes it more special.  Of course Sam has been my #1 fan and supporter and coach.  I wouldn’t be doing this without her.  I am very very grateful.”  

Turning to the horse side of the equation, I asked her if she could ride any horse, who would she choose? She quickly replied, “I’m riding him. I can’t think of any other horse I’d rather be riding than Scimitar.”
Jennifer's Pit Crew
Photo by Myra and Maren McMichael

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dressage Clinic with Jaralyn Finn

On September 7th, the PVDA Charles County Chapter held a clinic with Jaralyn Finn (  One of the highlights of the clinic was actually the location -- Stephanie McNutt was kind enough to allow us to use her bright and airy indoor arena at her  farm, Cedar Creek Farm.   The fabulous footing was a treat for all the riders and horses so we very much appreciate her hospitality.

Jaralyn taught a clinic for our chapter last summer so for many of us this was a second lesson and amazingly she remembered the issues we worked on last time and were able to build on the previous lesson.   We had eight riders ranging from Intro to Third Level so auditors could take away something from the day no matter what level they were riding.  One rider, Mary Beth Klinger, remarked, "It was terrific to see Jaralyn again. We worked on having the horse more connected right from the start of the lesson. It was a very worthwhile training."

Correct Like you Mean It and Let Go
No matter what level you were riding, correct and release was an important theme of the clinic.  One upper level rider was working on getting prompt responses to her requests.   Jaralyn asked her to think of the requests as "1, 2, 3".  1 being the lightest of aids, 2 a little firmer and 3 being an overcorrection sure to bring a dramatic response.   Jaralyn was quick to point out that even though the aids were to be prompt, you needed to give the horse time to realize their mistake before you moved to the next level of correction.

During another ride, Jaralyn pointed out that holding your leg in place continually was also not the correct aid.  You needed a quick firm pulse with the leg or spur and then release.

The Rider has Lots of Responsibility
Another theme of the clinic is that it’s up to us, as the rider, to give clear and correct aids to our horse. One horse had a hard time turning in time going into the corner.  After the turn he counter bent coming off the wall.  Jaralyn fixed this by having the rider first slow the tempo down a little before each corner and then turn about a meter before the corner and leg yield over.  By the third attempt they were making a perfect turn with correct bend and flexion.   It was up to the rider to set her horse up for success going into the turn.

Another rider was having some issues with position in canter.  Jaralyn had her get lightly up in two point and then sit down.   After her lesson the rider exclaimed, "I realized how important position is.  Immediately my hands were quieter and my horse moved better. The other thing she shared was when cantering keep your feet planted down into the stirrups and open your legs and hips. Cantering was much easier when my position improved."

At one point, Jaralyn mimicked the old Smokey the Bear mantra with, "Only YOU can keep contact." Like so many things in our riding, its usually the rider that is the source of problem and it’s not up to our horse to keep the contact (or whatever goal we are attempting to achieve) – it’s up to the rider to show the way.

Rider Position is OH so Important
Several riders had some difficulty with their positions and Jaralyn did some corrections that made all the difference in how their horse moved.  As one auditor commented on what she learned, "if the rider is out of alignment, the horse will be as well."

For those that needed more freedom and energy from their horse -- Keep the knee and thigh open with a slight bowleg.   It’s important to keep the weight in the stirrup at the ball of the foot so that your seat remains light.  Another image she gave a rider was to think as if her horse was reaching for a cavalletti in each stride.

For those that needed more push from behind -- think of shifting the yielding behind the saddle rather than the front of the horse as the "better he is from behind, the better he will feel in your hands."

For those looking for more fluidity in the up and down transitions -- think of a lighter pelvis for an up transition and pushing the pubic bone down when asking for a down transition.

Clinic auditor, Betsy Hunter summed the clinic up well, "I liked the way Jaralyn was able to quickly access each rider and decide what was most important to work on.  She focused on each rider, no matter what level, so that they improved and gained confidence in themselves and their horses.  She encouraged everyone to stretch out of their comfort zone."

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Horse Recovers from a Suspensory Pull - I Recover from Knee Surgery

About a month before I had my knee replacement surgery, Golly was showing some slight lameness.  A couple of days off and he was still off but not substantially.   My annual vet visit was coming up anyway so I asked her to add a lameness exam. After watching him go, doing a nerve block and a hands on physical exam, she said it was a suspension pull in the upper part of the right front leg.  Ugggh...

The treatment plan was a month of stall rest and then slowly put him back into work.  Since I was going to be out anyway, we agreed on two months of stall rest since the extra wouldn't hurt and could only help.

The full plan was:

1. Complete stall rest for one month
2. Stall rest for 12 hours and 12 hours in small outdoor paddock for remainder of summer
3. Starting at the two month mark, ten minutes of hand walking for two weeks
4. Ten minutes of hand walking and five minutes of walking under saddle for two weeks
5. Ten minutes of walking under saddle and 2-4 minutes of trotting
6. Adding more trot as he can handle the work

At four weeks past my knee replacement, I recruited friends to begin the hand walking.  I was shocked at how even ten minutes of hand walking left him a little breathless.  Two months of standing still really knocked his fitness level to nothing!

At five and half weeks past surgery I was getting a little impatient so decided to go just a bit faster and add a couple minutes under saddle.   You'd think a horse that hadn't been ridden for two months would be a LITTLE bad his first time under saddle but he was great ..... so.... I was tempted ..... could MY leg handle a few minutes in the saddle?   Since I had the help I went ahead and hopped on and did a quick circle.  The whole thing was painless and easy so I couldn't be happier with our first ride back together.

We won't know how his leg has has healed until he begins the trot work but so far its looking good and he seems happy to be back in the ring.   I have my doc appointment on Friday and plan to ask how it would affect my knee if I had to quickly get off.  If all is good with a quick dismount, I plan to do all the future under saddle work!  Woohoo!

Excuse the outfit - didn't think I would be riding!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Four Weeks After Knee Replacement

Recovery is going well but still seems slow to me.   I was measured at the therapy office yesterday and am getting very good numbers -- full extension and 130 degrees flexed.   This is pretty far ahead of the norm but I think much of that is due to the strength and flexibility I had before the surgery. As a horse owner, you can't tell the horse, "Sorry, my knee hurts today... I'll feed you tomorrow."   So you continue the walking and loading of grain and hay and in the end this helps your recovery.
My New Bionic Knee

I think the pool therapy is also helping.  I have a 30-45 minute routine I follow on the days I don't go to "official" therapy.   It includes deep knee bends at the stairs, stair climbing, swimming laps, walking in chest high water and treading water in the deep end with high knees and full extension.  When I do the high knees while treading water, I can feel the scar tissue "snap" so I think that is giving me some decent improvement in the flexibility.  For one reason or the other its easier to stretch past the comfort level when I'm in the pool.

I'm driving short distances now but since the knee gets stiff at longer distances I don't trust myself to drive longer distances (like an hour).  I also have gone back to feeding the horses giving at least some relief to my good friend who has been shouldering the load during my recovery.  I am able to muck stalls, feed and spread hay but walking the horses is hard!  They just walk too fast for my unstable legs.  I get help when I can but when I do lead them, it looks quite comical.   They are looking at me confused and trying to figure out why we are going so slow and are taking advantage of my speed (or lack of it) by stopping to eat grass.

Front View
My goal is to be back on my horse July 15th which means that Golly, who has been on stall rest due to his suspensory pull, needs to start his controlled ten minute hand walking.  Again, I am relying on fabulous horse friends to do this as I can obviously cannot walk fast enough to provide any therapy to him.   After two weeks of hand walking he is due to start ten minutes of under saddle walking per day which I am hoping I can do.

Last bit of news on my knee is that I am trying to go without pain meds.  This morning I am questioning my decision as there is some decent pain.  I may have to bend and take at least an over the counter med for a few days.

Looking forward to being back on my horse.  Crossing fingers and working hard to get there.