First and foremost, like me just start this post with the good news. Gem “Sandy the Bear” is back. And not just back, she feels better than ever. But while I thought I had a posted a few blog posts about our journey this spring, I realize that I actually never did. Now, I could sit here and tell everyone that she has had a wonderful recovery and is back at it, but that’s not actually what happened. I know a quite a few people have followed along with our journey since the kissing spine surgery and many have reached out with stories and asking advice on their own horses. So here we go… (short story, let be honest I’m not writing a novel).
This past March, Gem was ready to start flat work. The first time I tried to pick up the reins and asked her to move forward she stood up. I gave her her head and instead got off her back and urged her forward again and after a few hesitating moments we started trotting. She looked amazing in her body from the 12 weeks or so in the pessoa rig, so per the vet’s recommendation we pushed on thinking much of this was mental. My dressage coach, Ben Albright, was very patient and gave me a lot of good ideas. We got her swinging in her body, accepting contact again and most importantly moving forward. By the end of April, she was starting to jump and was growing stronger every day. I am a huge advocate of working horses on the line, so we had a cross country school on the rope, jumping up and down banks, ditches, into water and she looked so happy to be out doing her job. In the middle of May we went to Morningside to a combined test where she was 3rd in the training. I was so happy, I thought we were ready to hit the ground running. But oh how wrong I was.
We went to Maryland Horse Trials at the end of May for their starter trials and throughout the day, she progressively got worst. She was tense and nervous in the dressage but kept it together. I was having a great SJ round until the final line and I came out of the turn and she stood straight up in the air. I was so caught off guard I wasn’t sure what to do. We circled around and on the 2nd attempt she finished the course. We attempted to go to the cross country, but the rearing continued to the point it was getting dangerous, so I got off and walked back to the trailer frustrated to be back where we were 6 months prior.
After a night’s sleep and a glass or two of wine, I started making phone calls. I called the vet, I called the chiropractor, heck I asked people for an animal communicator bound and determined to figure out if she was still hurting or if it was time to call it quits. Dr. Elizabeth my chiropractor felt like her body felt great, but her GI acupuncture points were blowing up. She recommended I try her on EquiSure from KER along with a few drugs to help her hind gut. We also saw Dr. Johns who also agreed that whatever was going on wasn’t in her back. So we started treatment for hindgut ulcers. After a week on medication, I immediately was noticing a difference hoping and praying this was our answer.
Throughout this process, it has become so apparent that while Gem is the ultimate Worker Bee, she is very much an internalizer. She wants to be a good girl and wants to please, but in the process, she causes an immense amount of stress on herself. Along with the pain she had been experiencing, I believe she was holding onto an enormous amount of stress and mental baggage.
60 days later, treatment of the hindgut ulcers is over and while at home, she was schooling better than ever, at events she was still stressing and thought about starring in the next live action Zorro film. I knew she wasn’t 100% so I had to really evaluate what I’m was doing and how I am asking. I dropped her back down to novice where I was able to get a few runs in just trying to remind her that this job is fun and not at all difficult. We made the move back up to training level and after last weekend’s run at Olney Hors Trials, she has never felt better. She was relaxed in all three phases and I never once felt like I had to push her or felt like she wasn’t enjoying her job. As a rider, it’s easy to get into the trap that oh we gave them X veterinary treatment so oh they must be better. But in reality, there is a mental competent where the horses must replace painful memories with new ones that don’t involve pain and stress. I’ve had to get creative in my training and also not be afraid to ask for help. I’m excited to continue this journey with this special girl because regardless of whatever level to gets to, she has made me a better horsewoman and continues to challenge me to be better. And for that I am forever thankful.
"Be so good they can't ignore you" - Steve Martin