Thursday, September 25, 2008

opening new eyes to old problems

Yesterday we had the acupuncturist/vet out for the pony's second acupuncture session. This time she had me lunge the pony at a walk/trot in each direction so she could take a look at his movement, demeanor, and overall willingness in the arena. What she saw was a decent representation of the issues we've had with the Little Man.

He is a sharp looking pony, and he can be absolutely stunning both in the field and under saddle. He is talented, and a good soul, but he can also be stubborn and tense.

After the movement, she did a physical examination of his hind legs. She found mild soreness in the hocks, primarily in the left, and feels this is not due to a recent occurrence, but something he has been dealing with for a while. She thinks we may be looking at mild arthritis.

I was shocked. This pony is 8 years old. He's had many, many people involved in his care and training and performance. No one has ever looked to the hocks as the source of problems. I suspect we've been fooled by the good and bad days he has. When it's good, it's really good. And when it's bad, it's not bad enough to assume something is really wrong. We have never gotten past the 'pony' attitude or the tightness in his neck and shoulders. We never looked at what might be "behind" these other issues.

After I got over the shock yesterday, I began to think of things he does from a new perspective. He stretches his hind legs straight out behind him on a regular, near-daily basis. I've never seen a horse do this before - it looks like he is doing pony yoga. That now makes perfect sense. Think of the older folks you know with arthritis in their hands, and that measured, drawn out stretching they do with the wrists and fingers. It's exactly the same thing.

His grumpiness makes perfect sense if he has been experiencing mild pain. And the fact that he comes out of the arena soft and mellow fits perfectly as well. Once the hocks are moved and warmed up, they feel better.

I began to note how he stands, the way he shifts his weight, and suddenly it all clicked.

This vet specializes in Chinese medicine, and has a background in dressage. She asked me to try to view everything to do with the pony from the perspective of his hind legs - and the instant I did that, I began to see many, many things I hadn't seen just one hour before.

She suggested we continue with his work under saddle, but that we pay close attention to the warm-up period, that we let the hocks guide us. Walk him in big figures, with no sharp turning, until the stride lengthens from behind. She assigned me the task of watching for this while my daughter rides. Once he's not only tracking up, but getting some over-reach, we can move to trot work. And the trot work should continue until I see that lovely, soft swinging tail that makes the S-shape as it moves. It will only make that shape if he's moving through, with balance and rhythm and suppleness. Only then can more "work" be done.

I knew exactly what she meant. I've noted that tail movement before when my daughter rides, but not realizing what a useful clue it is in assessing soundness.

For now, as we continue assessment and treatment, which will include acupuncture and probaby x-rays, we'll back off jumping and galloping.

I feel relieved and grateful that last year when he was jumping 2'9" and then went sour to jumping, we LISTENED. There were a few folks who felt he should be made to do the work, but we backed way off. I wonder now what damage we would have done, both physically and emotionally, had he been made to continue jumping that height.

We did the warm-up exercise this morning. It took nearly 30 minutes for the walk stride to track up. It took 10-15 minutes for the trot to become balanced and the tail to swing in that characteristic way.

The vet also suggested that we apply moist heat to the hocks, mostly to let the pony know we now understand where the issue is. She said when he realizes we understand where the pain is, and show him that, his trust will increase, and he will relax and allow us to work with him to make things better.

My daughter and husband applied the moist, warm towels yesterday afternoon in the back field. The pony loved it, they said, and stood calmly while they wrapped his hocks in what I hope transmitted warmth, love, and the nurturing attention that comes from being heard - not only by the hock, but his whole pony self.


the7msn said...

This vet sounds incredible! You must feel like there are a thousand light bulbs going off above your head. Such amazing insight to the pony's issues and they all seem spot-on.

billie said...

This morning (the blog post was written yesterday, so it's a day behind real time) the tracking up happened in 15 minutes, about half the time it took yesterday. The swinging trot was almost instant, so there is improvement.

I also got him a new bit, which has been on my to do list since last spring. It's a slightly fat, double-jointed loose ring snaffle, with a copper mouth. The change in his head and neck tension was evident.

It's interesting how the herbs drew our attention to his triple heater meridian, which pulled in the new vet/acupuncture, which led to the hocks. And somehow this focus brought me back around to the mouth, which is relaxing the head and neck. Full circles.

It does feel to me like each of our horses is taking us on different journeys of discovery. I feel like I am learning new things every day.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Soft swinging "S" shaped tail.....I've never heard of that before, but it makes perfect sense.

Wow. What an eye opener you've experienced. What a blessing for the pony, also.
I'm glad to hear that he's being understood now and will be on the road to more comfort, too. :)


Victoria Cummings said...

How lucky you are to have found this vet! I wonder if the weather is also affecting the pony. I know when it's about to rain, Silk's arthritis really acts up and she gets stiff. Sometimes, even moisture in the air will cause a reaction.

billie said...

Thanks, Lisa. Yesterday evening I tacked up Keil Bay and asked my daughter to watch his feet and tail to let me know when he was tracking up, and when his tail did the S-swing.

It was immediately. He is 19 years old! It really put yet another piece of this in perspective.

billie said...

Victoria, she did tell me to start noticing how he moves and what the weather is like when he seems stiff. It's interesting already that pre-rain he was the stiffest, and then once it started, with two days' of clocking it with a watch, his warm-up time halved.

It's funny too - we are used to seeing the changes for Salina, who is very arthritic in her knees. It's easy when it's blatantly there. The pony's discomfort is so much more subtle. But clearer now that we are looking at it, obviously!

Cheryl said...

Your vet does sound very wise. Yes, we "old" people do stretch out more. Maybe he is stretching, too!

billie said...

Cheryl, he is definitely stretching - I just never knew why.

Just this morning I was doing this slightly strange stretch before getting out of bed. My husband asked what in the world I was doing. "Stretching out my back."

It's a good thing, young, old, or in between!

Chris said...

It's awesome to read posts like this - the joys of the internet to learn from others experiences.

Sorry to hear that your young boy is suffering from arthritis! We've one at the riding school where I keep my boy (who's 20 and still acts like a 2 year old) who's also so young but affected by arthritis.

Awesome that you've been able to pinpoint the problem and work with it.

billie said...

Chris, he's doing well right now. I'm very curious to see a radiograph but for now we're focusing on getting through the acupuncture series.

Fortunately, he's not experiencing overt soreness or swelling.