For most of January we took one step forward and two steps back each week. It's been difficult to pin down the issue. Winter inflicts enough stiffness on its own, exacerbating the question of whether there is a real problem or just an environmental one. We had some good days. Quizz no longer cross cantered (rather than bringing both inside legs forward together, the horse brings the front inside leg and the hind outside leg forward together). She was doing better with her canter transitions though frequently exploding on the lunge line before picking it up. We would have a good day followed by a day she didn't want anyone on her back. We panicked that the saddles didn't fit but it turns out that wasn't really the biggest issue. We did what you do with horses; we tried different things until we found a way to make things work.
Quizz has now been shod twice by her new farrier. She still definitely has something going on in her right SI. She won't let the farrier bring her right hind leg up under her so he has taken to doing all the work on that leg out behind her and she is much happier. She is growing a nice amount of hoof in front, less behind. He estimates it will take 6 - 8 months to get her feet where he would like to see them.
In the mean time, we developed a routine that seems to be working. My daughter lunges Quizz for 10 - 20 minutes before every ride. The goal is to achieve 2 smooth canter transitions on each side before working under saddle. Some days this takes longer than others. Quizz generally explodes at least once, leaping off the ground on all fours, bucking and taking off around her circle or another more creative shape. Some days she explodes 3 or 4 times. As we implement this routine, the lunging duration continues to vary but definitely improves each day.
As I mentioned in my post on lameness, lunging is an important skill but one we often neglect. It had been on our list to work on for over a year and we did work on it a bit but usually our trainer would lunge the pony or horse, Elizabeth would watch and take over the lunge once we were sure things were going well and only at the walk and maybe the trot. Over the past few weeks Elizabeth has developed her skills immensely. Our trainer now sits at the side of the ring while Elizabeth handles the lunge line. When Quizz explodes Elizabeth calms her saying, "Easy," and brings her back to a controlled trot or canter. Four weeks ago Elizabeth was afraid to really swing the whip at her. Now she uses it to insist on a consistent tempo in the trot and on picking up the canter. The transitions are still not timely but they are getting better. And the best part is that Elizabeth is solving a problem on the ground she struggles with in the saddle: respect! The ground work is making Quizz respect her young rider. The more Elizabeth insists on the canter transition on the lunge line, the better Quizz's canter transitions go under saddle. I am so incredibly proud of my 12 year old daughter as I watch her master this skill and work with her horse to build a relationship and mutual understanding.
When Elizabeth sits on Quizz's back, the horse is already warm and loose. The ride begins with stretching Quizz at the walk on 10 meter circles in both directions. She's very tight through her rib cage so Elizabeth is learning to not just use her inside rein but to really use her inside leg to bend Quizz's body. This is also improving. Elizabeth is not big and heavy at this point so making a horse respect her leg has been a challenge but she's getting some results. She absolutely has to get Quizz round and using her body properly at the walk before she can trot, and at the trot before she can canter. In the past we've let the roundness and contact slide since those are difficult riding skills to master. But now it is too important for Quizz that she engage her core during work and that she is not allowed to hollow her back. By the end of their rides, Quizz looks wonderful! It takes an awful lot to get there but she develops a beautiful, forward working trot, a nice long and low stretchy trot and lovely, smooth canter transitions.
The next step is to increase Quizz's work load. Right now the weather is just miserable. Quizz is doing very good work but often it's every other day. By the beginning of March we will start working 5 days a week and, soon after, 6 days a week. The duration of work will increase and hopefully by then she will be able to reduce the amount of lunging and even begin to jump again but we will be patient and let the horse determine the pace.
It's actually very interesting to watch this mare's progress. She has had moments that she was not exactly cooperative which bothered us because she generally has a great attitude. I have sensed a shift recently as though she feels like we finally figured things out and are giving her what she needs. I believe she loves working, she loves eventing and she loves my daughter. So I'm extremely optimistic we will get there and hopefully in time for a great season.
So in the end this whole thing has been a blessing in disguise. It’s actually great seeing the things Elizabeth is learning during this rehab period that she wouldn’t have worked on if Quizz had been perfectly healthy. If she had been healthy we would have been working on jumping position, jumping higher, no stirrups, etc, all valuable things we will get to but I feel like the things she’s focused on instead are the things we easily skip over or don’t fully embrace and perfect because we all have limited time. We always say we need to work on lunging but until the horse forced us to go there we weren’t doing it in a way that Elizabeth was really learning and taking responsibility for. I’m so proud of her. You should see Quizz being totally ridiculous jumping up and down and taking off all crazy and Elizabeth telling her easy and bringing her back without a care in the world. It’s hard to believe my daughter is only 12 years old sometimes.