When I last posted we’d just got Drifter’s “prescription” from the physio, namely a little light riding and lots of in-hand raised trotting-poles.
So I was going to be carting cavaletti* around on a daily basis. I was apprehensive about whether other people would be using the schools and cavaletti at the times I needed them. On the first day of the new regime I found an available school and went cavaletti hunting. I found one where it should be, in the jump store by the big outdoor school but where were the others? I checked near the indoor school but there were none. After recruiting a member of staff we discovered the remaining 4 cavaletti were all in the dog agility area. There is now a new dog business running out of the yard and the agility field is a recent addition. Apparently it’s OK for me to use the cavaletti as long as I put them straight back afterwards except on Tuesdays (when outside people can book the dog agility field).
At first this displeased me. Surely the horses have priority over the dogs for equipment that was bought for horses?! But then I realised if I use the little outdoor school it’s actually a shorter and easier distance to move the cavaletti from the dog field than from the jump store, so I grabbed the silver lining and went with it. It’s no problem for us to have our rest day on a Tuesday.
So I set up my cavaletti as instructed by the physio – three of my strides apart and about mid shin height, which I decided was best expressed by the maximum height of the cavaletti. I went with three in a row because I couldn’t be bothered carrying any more than three.
Then I came back with D. I got on. It was not good. He felt really bad. I couldn’t explain what was wrong, just that it was really bad! Also he was a little reluctant to go in the spooky corner.** As directed, I stuck out the full 10 minutes, which felt like a life sentence, and I included a tiny trot on each rein. The trots were scary because he was leaning so much on his forehand that I felt we were both going to fall on our noses. At not a second over 10 min I dismounted and we eyed the cavaletti as I put his stirrups up out of the way.
How was this going to go?
I got him trotting and headed for the line of poles.
He went around them.
We tried again with me jumping over them closer to the middle so he couldn’t go around them.
He jumped the first one and stopped.
The 4 yr old used-to-be-a-stallion-until-quite-recently in the next field was due to be fetched in. And he wanted to play. Boing, buck, run, jump, stop, go, leap, twist, hurray! It was a beautiful thing, but it was not a constructive thing. And Drifter took his lead. Suddenly I had a horse in hand who had three gears: stop, gallop and buck. And I was leading him from the reins. I did a lot of telling off and smacking. I stopped the clock on our 10 min of raised trotting poles and had to work on getting his attention back on me. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. I tried heading for the poles again but the when I asked for trot I got an on-the-spot-bouncing. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. He absolutely refused to go in the spooky corner so I didn’t try again until he was calmer. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. At some point during this the young horse stopped for a poo and the staff member took the opportunity to catch him while he was concentrating on his bowels. By the time I had full attention from Drifter and he was going into the spooky corner without argument we were on our own and ready to try the poles again. We managed to go over the poles, not round them and approach in trot, but it was not very successful. He either jumped them (not doing his exercises!) or trod on them and scared himself.
We had a few unsuccessful tries and then I dropped the height of the cavaletti. This seemed to help and we got one or two successful-ish goes, but still quite a bit of jumping, looking confused and walking. I gave up, exhausted.
On day two I set the poles at the slightly lower height from the beginning. I got on. He felt awful again, and I realised that what I was feeling was a horse with his usually forward attitude but taking really short strides really fast. It felt like having a piggy back from a woman wearing substantial heels and a hobble skirt, and almost as insecure! I knew I was supposed to do a little more than 10 minutes, but I was very reluctant, so we would do 11 minutes! We tried our little trot slightly earlier than the previous day, and although it was awful it did have a positive effect on the walk afterwards, and towards the end of the time I could feel he was moving more freely than at the beginning.
We didn’t have the young-horse dramas to contend with, so the poles were much calmer. He looked at them and over we went. I trotted nicely over. He went “tiny jump”, “tiny jump”, tiny jump”. Hmm. Very neat, and clever but not “doing your exercises”. I moved the poles closer together. With a concentrating air, once again he very carefully jumped each one, landing between them as tidily as you could ask. Amusing. But not what we were there for! On the next try I ran faster with him, shouting “Trotting” just before he reached each pole. It worked! I gave much praise. I wouldn’t say he got it every time from there, but we certainly got a lot more successful goes and less jumping!
In subsequent sessions I have been starting to see and feel his movement improving. When I’ve got off after the riding stage he’s looked towards the cavaletti as if he’s interested in doing them, and we have more successful passes over them. The relaxation towards the end of the ride is improving and I’m getting better with the tiny trots. I’ve learnt that if I sit UP and channel my inner Carl Hester, engaging my core ferociously, everything goes a little smoother. It’s also quite marked that one trot diagonal is much easier for him than the other.
There’s still a long way to go but we are seeing progress. And while he initially said no to rehab, he seems to be coming round to the idea now. We’ll continue like this for another week and see the physio again next Friday.
*For those that don’t know, cavaletti are jump poles permanently attached to a wooden X at each end in such a way that they can either lie flat on the ground, stand about a foot above the ground or somewhere between the two.
**All horses in the yard agree that if that school has a spooky corner it is that one. There are bushes to wave in the wind and the field alongside has a log in it. Gasp.