"The Clinic that Broke my Horse"
"That Time I Swore Loudly in front of an Audience"
"Physio for us Both"
It was an eventful weekend (Note: This happened two weeks ago now, May 13-14 but the show last week means I'm still on catch up mode).
This is the third clinic with Sandra that I have organized (previous ones in November and February). Since I started working with Sandra, she has started a physio business that specializes in working with both riders and their horses. Sandra has had the knowledge for working with horses and humans for a while, but now that her business is off the ground, she also has the portable equipment to back it up.
I had a lot of people express interest in the May clinic, and I thought I was going to have to have a waiting list, unfortunately when it came time to actually confirm numbers, a lot of people dropped out and numbers were low (see Show Struggles for my frustrations with people who say they are interested and then don't actually follow through). The low registration especially surprised me because a local vet T had generously allowed us to use her beautiful acreage and arena for the clinic so there was no facility charge and the clinic was super affordable. Anyways, the lower price and the open spots made me decide to sign up for a total of four sessions in the clinic instead of my usual two.
The plan was:
Saturday morning - horse physio for Kachina
Saturday afternoon - riding lesson
Sunday morning - horse physio for Kachina
Sunday afternoon - rider physio for me plus riding lesson
I hadn't had any soreness problems with Kachina and I had no particular concerns, but I thought the physio sessions would be a great opportunity to check that nothing hidden was wrong. Also, I really struggle with the lack of regulation and science behind many types of equine bodywork. I'm not saying all bodywork is bad, quite the opposite, but you really have to trust and know your practitioner and I don't feel I have that with anyone local. Sandra went to university for many years to become a registered human physiotherapist, she has taken substantial animal training as well, and she really focuses on evidence-based treatments rather than all that other stuff. She also knows Kachina and what her strengths and weaknesses are. Bottom line, she's a person I trust to look at my horse and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, but I didn't want to lose out on my normal clinic rides. I cleared the plan above with Sandra and she didn't see any issue with us doing horse physio and riding in the same day, she thought Kachina would really enjoy the body work. You can probably see where this is going....
|Photo Credit: The Buckin' Photographer|
A local rodeo photographer was our show photographer,
she had never taken photos of dressage before so she came out to
watch some of the clinic and take some test shots to prep for the show
Saturday Morning - Horse Physio
I brought Kachina out to the arena in just her halter and Sandra started working with her. I may have forgotten a couple things but here is the list of what was done and what was found:
- Tongue - the back of the tongue is attached to something else that then leads a lot of the way down the neck. By palpating the underside of her jaw and by doing gentle tongue stretches (actually holding the tongue out the side of the mouth), Sandra found that the left side is tight.
- Neck/poll - Sandra has previously shown me the stretch to get the nuchal ligament to pop back and forth over the crest of the neck. Kachina has loosened up compared to last year (super tight), but she's better one side than the other and more improvement could be made. She was also tight and reactive in the poll area, so Sandra showed me a spot to massage. We also did side to side neck stretches which I regularly do mounted with Kachina - reminder to make sure Kachina stretches her neck instead of rotating her head, but otherwise good.
- Back/abs - No sensitivity found in back and Kachina was good about pulling up her abs and back when scratched under her belly
- Hind legs - good mobility to bend joints up, and leg back, but resistance to pulling leg forward so I should gently stretch that
- Hindquarters - kick mark near tail (suspect recent), and knot in muscle nearby to massage out over time
- Tail - Kachina good with tail pull (I've done this before with her). Sandra also did gentle tail circles and found that she was very tight, though it may be just because it's a new thing for her, I should do tail circles with her.
- Girth Area - Sandra worked on Kachina front to back so this wasn't the last thing, but I'm listing it last because it was the biggest thing. Kachina was extremely reactive to being palpated/massaged in her girth area. A lot of the reactivity seemed to be just with her skin and outer fascia, not the muscle below, but she was super twitchy and kept moving away. Sandra brought up the idea of ulcers, which I'm not really sure what to do about because Kachina is already out 24/7 and has continuous forage with a round bale and slow feed net, and she's on a pretty light workload. My understanding was that she would be a very low risk for ulcers and I'm already doing many of the preventative things. The other possibility is my girth. I've had a lot of girth issues in the last few months. I know that Kachina wasn't a fan of my Total Saddle Fit Stretchtec girth (I used it for a few months and she slowly got more and more girthy), but she has been getting better with my new girth so I thought I was clear. The issues Sandra found could just be remnants from the old girth, but it's tough to tell. I was given instructions to do lots of gentle massage there to see if her sensitivity goes away (Sandra was using much more pressure).
Saturday Afternoon - Ride
Kachina got a few hours off in a pen to chill after the physio. When I brought her out again she was fine to groom and tack up. I started my warm up at one end of the arena while the previous lesson was ending. I was doing my usual walk warm up with lots of lateral work, getting Kachina to move her hips, her ribcage, her shoulders and her neck in turn. She was responding normally to my leg and all seemed fine.
Then, my lesson started. She was good at the walk and so we quickly went into trot. She trotted well for about 2/3 of a circle, and then she all of a sudden got super super tight. Sandra encouraged me to push her forward and keep trotting, but the tightness felt off to me so I let her come to a stop and then walked a bit. Kachina is a generally tense horse and often goes into tense running giraffe mode, but this felt different and more reactive. After a bit of walking I tried trot again. She made it a few steps and then got super super tight again and shot off across the arena. She didn't buck, and she wasn't quite bolting, but her neck was super retracted so I had no contact, her back was super seized up so I had nowhere to sit, and she kind of did a fast series of stiff legged canter hops that was really hard to sit. I lost my stirrup and struggled to turn her. She wasn't relaxing and her tension seemed like something that was more likely to escalate instead of dissipate. I was pretty sure I was going to come off, it was around this time that I may have shouted "F#%*" quite loudly (Which was absolutely my thought at the time, but I rarely swear and felt really embarrassed afterwards). I ended up having to grab the pommel of my saddle with my hand while getting to get her to turn and stop. After I got myself organized, I tried doing a bit more walk and suppling but she sped up and tensed up again. This time I got her stopped quickly but something was definitely off and I was really unnerved. Sandra offered to take over and I immediately agreed.
|Sandra on board|
(it's not obvious in this cherry picked image but she was still tense)
Photo Credit: The Buckin' Photographer
Sandra started by doing a bunch of ground work with Kachina, getting her to circle and follow and move off of pressure from her hand. When she finally mounted up she did a lot of walking and circling and trying to get her supple and moving over her back. Kachina was super tight and was stepping short (evenly both sides) and just did not want to let go. After a lot of work Sandra was able to get some half decent walk and trot, but only half decent, not back to normal. We both could feel and see that Kachina was being reactive and defensive, not naughty, so we left it there for the day. I hopped back on to cool her out, mostly just because I knew I needed to get back on the horse sooner rather than later so my fear wouldn't get the best of me. As I walked her out she seemed calmer, but was still moving in a somewhat jerky manner compared to her normal fluidity.
I had had a really good ride on Kachina on Thursday, only two days before. I kept my emotions in check but inside I was pretty upset. I had been really looking forward to the clinic to work on my canter transitions and test patterns, but instead we had gone backwards like 2 years and I wasn't even able to trot a circle. The only explanation seemed to be the physio. Like I said before, I trust Sandra and knew she hadn't done anything damaging to my horse, but it really seemed like the clinic had broken her. Over the drive home and dinner that night Sandra and I talked over what had happened. Sandra hasn't ever had a horse react so strongly to physio before but we concluded that Kachina is a tense horse and we must have just unlocked some issues and brought them to the surface and she was sensitive about it. We also discussed saddle fit and supplements as two other pieces to look into. I was already planning to have a saddle fit assessment done in June so this just made that more important, and I need to get the saddle fitter to assess my girth as well. I've also already been looking into adding some feed to Kachina's diet to fill in some possible gaps. Sandra told me about some other horses like Kachina (horses that tend towards tension) who have benefited hugely from a magnesium supplement so we thought that was also worth a try.
This post is already long so I'll sum up Sunday in a Part II post.