I usually teach a lesson on Saturday morning but this morning instead I am at the computer reflecting on the up and down world with horses.
Four out of five of the horses at our property have either a lameness or injury type of irritation. Our little pony, Toby, who is normally the lesson pony has decided that he’s not entirely happy with a request to trot with a rider on the lunge, and even less so to canter. He has been making this clear for quite sometime, but being an ever hopeful human as many of us are, I just wanted to put it down to attitude. I mean he’s always had a very firm mind of his own and has really taught us the most about horsemanship. That is, getting the horse to buy into your ideas. It seems that for a small minority of horses, operant conditioning is not enough. From observing his manner over years, Toby has higher than average intelligence for a horse and he is a true blue opportunist. It’s a constant teaching cycle with him.
So, I wasn’t seeing with 100% accuracy what he was letting me know, that is, until I noticed with my own eyes the back muscle atrophy. After a ride the muscle would sink into a dent in his back from supporting the rider either with or without a saddle (ridden more often in a bareback pad than in a saddle). The muscle needed to be gently worked with exercise in order to recover, so I continued lunging without a rider and long reining asking for a posture over his back that would support the muscle. However, a couple of weeks later he didn’t want to bend to the left and seemed a bit stiff in the body on the right rein as well. Not lame and happy to scream around the paddocks. But in circle work he was irritated. What could be wrong with this hardy little pony?
Looking back, he’s always been tender in the lumbar region. He would buck at the canter transition originally when we first got him. He objected with a buck if he took a tight corner (such as barrel racing) or the rider placed weight in the lumbar region. But for the most part he has been quite pleasant to ride, especially for someone who knows him well and has enough strategies to encourage his willingness. The muscle atrophy and difficulty bending however is a new development.
After palpitating his back, it is the area around the ribs close to the flank where he is sensitive. The muscle atrophy is difficult to see with a heavy winter coat.
We played around with using wraps to see if that helps him engage the hindquarters. I really did not notice a difference when lunging with the wraps on (whereas for another horse it has been useful). He seemed to enjoy chilling out while I fussed over him giving some gentle massage and Masterton method ‘wiggles’ for help with his tight areas.
My suspicion is that he is irritated by a gelding scar which is now, at 14 years of age, causing imbalances in connective tissue and musculature his body. The severing of the nerves during that procedure has been found to produce neuromas when the nerves attempt to regenerate into scar tissue. Since there has been irritation there ever since we have had Toby, this makes sense as an avenue to investigate.
In the meantime we will continue exercising in a manner that is less irritating with straight lines and good posture and I will report back on his progress. In my next blogs I may delve into some of the other issues that I am in the midst of rehabilitating with the horses. These can also be found on Facebook under pages created for each horse if you are interested in following our progress.
See the following pages on Facebook: