My trainer Sarah has been telling me for years that Grace’s body issues directly correspond to my physical issues. In other words, any lameness or stiffness in Grace’s body is because of a stiffness or holding in my body. I have only begun to truly accept this in the last 6 months.
Several years ago Grace started coughing while I was riding her, usually when I would ask her for the left lead. The left lead had always been a challenge for her; actually all of my horses have had trouble with the left lead (clue #1?). I hauled her into the local vet clinic to get the cough diagnosed. Grace would not cough for the vet. We even turned her out in a dusty round pen. When the vet saw her lope in the round pen, he asked my permission to turn the visit into a lameness exam. He was very concerned about her left hind leg. He did a flexion test, x-rayed her left hock and blocked it. I stood behind him when he slapped the x-ray up on the viewer. He flipped the switch for the fluorescent light, stepped back and said “WHOA!” That is never what you want to hear your vet say when looking at an x-ray. He said Grace’s hock was full of arthritis and if he didn’t know better he would have thought it was the hock of a 26 year old horse that had worked hard all its life. She was only 9 at the time. He injected her hock that day.
My head was spinning with questions, none of which the vet really answered. As I hauled Grace home, all I could think of was how she had been in pain for all this time and I had no idea. I felt like the worst horse owner on the planet. When Bailey was lame, he would tell me loud and clear. Grace just keeps trucking on, doing anything she can to make me happy. I called Sarah right away. She has an amazing background in rehabbing horses. She told me that bone is living tissue and it can be remolded. This was no death sentence for my horse, but it would change the way I would ride forever. She offered to take Grace for 90 days, if I would follow her program.
One of the first things Sarah told me was that my imbalance had contributed to Grace’s hock. I did not want to hear that. It also was not the first time she had said it. We were boarding at a reining barn together a few years prior. I had started doing some reining maneuvers on Grace. She loved flying changes, sliding stops and spins. To this day if I start to lope circles on her she anticipates a flying change in the middle of the arena. Sarah told me then that I had a lot of buttons on my horse but needed to go back and put on more foundation. I was having fun running my horse into the ground so I didn’t listen. Now I had to listen. I no longer cared if we competed at anything ever again; I just wanted my mare to be sound. I was ready to learn, again.
90 days turned into 9 months. Not only was Grace sound at the end she was more broke and a real pleasure to ride. Sarah changed the way I rode. I describe Grace to my friends as a high maintenance horse. She is not one to throw an ill fitting saddle on and go for a high headed gallop on, unless I want to pay for it with weeks of lameness. There is a process of warming her up, making sure she is lifting her back and using her hind end. She needs to be supple in her face and using her rib cage in her turns. Grace has helped me change from someone who rides horses into someone who is a horseman. Honestly I think all horses need to be ridden the way I ride Grace. I am lucky in that she is very sensitive. I never get away with cutting corners.