Update on Drifter’s surgery

The surgery went very smoothly. It was all much calmer than I expected, and Drifter seems to be recovering well.

Unfortunately our usual vet was unable to be there due to personal reasons and possibly a car break-down into the mix. He’s been having a really rough time lately. Another vet from his practice was there instead, and she managed the anaesthetics, the specialist carried out the surgery, and there was an assistant as well.

Initially they gave Drifter a drug “to protect his heart,” which made him rather dopey, and I signed the paperwork. 20 minutes later I slowly led him to the school where the operation was to be carried out. Perhaps because of the drug, he didn’t like it when they brought the clippers to get better access to the veins in his neck, so they used scissors. (I can only assume his reaction was to do with the drug and possibly the number of strangers because he’s usually completely indifferent to clippers, to the extent that anyone learning to clip for the first time asks if they can have a go clipping him!)

We walked him to a particularly soft looking part of the school and then he got the hard drugs. I know he had ketamine, although I don’t know if that was the only drug used. He quickly went very wobbly, but was reluctant to lie down. He was “topped up” a few times, as he continued to stand and wobble. Eventually the vet managing the anaesthetic gently pushed and pulled him down to his chest, and from there onto his side, quickly pulling the legs straight from underneath him. They put a jumper over his eyes to protect them, and padded out the headcollar with cotton wool. This padding, they had explained, is needed to reduce the risk of nerve damage from the pressure of the weight of the head pressing into the metal rings of the head collar. Then they got to work. The surgeon was wearing scrubs over his warm clothes, but the other two were wearing ordinary yard clothes and I was surprised how ordinary everything seemed, except that there were lots of people rushing around an unconscious horse in the middle of the indoor school with his eyes covered and a syringe sticking out of his neck.

They quickly shaved and scrubbed the area, and the operating vet brought over two machines which he set up on chairs. One was the laser machine, the other I’m not sure what to call it – a little air-vacuum-cleaner for sucking away the smoke and smell from the lasering. He also had lots of clamps and swabs. He asked for help operating the laser which turns off and on from a foot pedal. As all the vets were kneeling on the ground around Drifter a staff member, who had asked to be involved if possible, operated the pedal.

I sort of wanted to watch but wasn’t sure how I’d feel, so initially I put my chair near the head end, but ended up going round to watch as well and eventually moved my chair to watch all the gory detail.

It was fairly gory, but also fairly dull and slow at the same time. Very neat though. The surgery took 1hr 15 min, counting from once Drifter was unconscious, and by the time he was done, the surgeon had removed a disc of flesh about 8-10 cm across. He had to go a little deeper than he initially expected to get it all, but the finished job was very tidy.

Because it was laser surgery, the wound was not covered afterwards. Apart from giving antibiotics and bute, he also has Acyclovir cream – an antiviral humans use on coldsores – to try to eliminate any viral sarcoid cells that could be still in the area. The surgeon thinks there will be an over 90% chance that the growth will not return, but that the cream adds an extra few percent, just in case.

As the anaesthetic wore off, Drifter’s head was quite twitchy, and the anaesthetist had everyone but her leave the school in case he got up hallucinating, as can happen sometimes. However his ascent to his legs was quite sedate and he clearly had no bigger concerns than working out how to balance and which order his legs should move in. It took him quite a while to sort himself out, but after a lap around the school in hand we all walked him back to the stable as a herd, with the anaesthetist at the front end, the surgeon holding his tail, presumably so he could help stabilise the back end if it was getting away from Drifter. It was a very long walk, and not without hairy moments, but eventually we had him back in his stable safe and sound. He looked pretty awful, sweating out the anaesthetic, head down, still not walking well, and with school surface ground into his hair from head to tail on one side of him.

We got him rugged up and the vets left to do their third field surgery of the day! I knew they’d done one in the morning before us, but I had no idea they were heading off to a third afterwards. Wow.

Then it was just a case of waiting until he seemed well enough to eat. It was now after 4 and he’d not been allowed any food since 9 that morning. Even through his druggy haze he could tell other horses were getting fed and he wasn’t, and he wasn’t happy. He just wanted to stand at the door and wait for food, and shake but we keep forcing him to walk around the stable to see if he was capable yet. I wasn’t sure how much to rug him – some of the shaking was drug-induced, but was some of it shivering too? He’s not clipped and has grown the thickest, longest coat you can imagine, and I didn’t want to overheat him, but on the other hand he was unfed, drugged, and had spent over an hour lying on his side in a cold school. There was much layering of thin rugs! At just after 6.00 we gave in and offered a handful of hay. As he managed that without choking he got the whole net, which being a very small holed net meant he couldn’t scoff it, but had to eat slowly, and once he was allowed to eat he started to look a lot better, and was better able to regulate his temperature. It was all pretty awkward for me as everyone agreed because of the pregnancy I shouldn’t be in the stable with him until he could manage himself, but that meant I couldn’t get him to walk round or change rugs myself. Mr S was being the best assistant he could be, but having extremely limited experience with horses, his skills for safely persuading a sedated and very hungry horse to step around were somewhat limited. He did a good job with rugs though. Actually he was incredibly helpful all day – spending 6 hours stood around in the cold was not his idea of how best to spend a day of his annual leave, but he was always there when I needed him, fetching things, checking things, moving my folding chair, listening to vets (to give my hormone-riddled brain a back-up), taking photos, etc.

While he did take some very interesting photos, I’m not posting them here because I know some of my readers would find them objectionable.

In terms of the growth that was removed, the surgeon thinks it is probably a sarcoid over a granuloma, but is sending it for lab testing to be sure.

Two days later and, apart from walking a little carefully behind, he seems back to his usual self, despite the crater-like piece missing from his underneath and the expected swelling of the area. He’ll be taking it easy for a while and I’ll get him a checkup next week, but things are looking pretty good from here. And contrary to our own vet’s concerns, at no point did I feel that there was any risk of it bringing on premature labour – the only ill effect I had was backache from too much standing and from the cold.

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Surgery for Drifter

This time last year Drifter was diagnosed with a sarcoid just in front of his sheath. It responded very well to blood-root ointment and completely disappeared. Happy days.

This year it is back. Being pregnant it is not easy for me to see the underside of a not-particularly-tall-but-fairly-rotund horse’s belly, so it wasn’t me that spotted it initially, but staff members. We got the vet out to take a look and he was rather concerned. It is a flat growth maybe half of the size of my palm, and what particularly concerned the vet was that it appears to be two types of growth intermingled – a sarcoid and … “something else”.

If it was just “something else” he would have biopsied it, but because of the sarcoid element he felt a biopsy could trigger aggressive growth, so we don’t know what kind of “something else” it is.

It was agreed that the best thing to do was to remove it entirely and lab test it afterwards. Unfortunately due to the location of the growth this means a general anaesthetic, so they can get access. This is going to happen today. The surgeons will be Drifter’s regular vet who will be assisting a specialist in equine skin surgery and there will be an anaesthetist as well. They’ll also need another pair of hands to hold a hind leg out of the way once they have him lying on his side. (Apparently that’s the same arrangement they use for gelding). The operation is going to happen in the indoor school. This seems nicer for Drifter than travelling anywhere and staying in unfamiliar surrounds, although I was initially a bit surprised when the vet said that was where he wanted to do it. A member of the yard staff will be holding up the leg, not me, as lifting weight over any length of time is not compatible with being almost-full-term-pregnant!

The vet would be happier if I were not there. He is emphatic that he does not want to deliver this baby! However I worry most when I know least, so I intend to be there at least for the start. If I were sat at home wondering about everything that would be far more stressful. First I’d worry if the vets had turned up, then that they’d not have what the needed, or that the anaesthetic wouldn’t work, etc. etc. etc. Far better for me to be there and see that the little things are all going to plan, even if I don’t watch the whole thing.

It’s lucky that the availability of the relevant vets and anaesthetist all fell in the first full week of my maternity leave, because managing work, this and pregnancy would all be rather impossible. It’s also lucky that Mr S has this week off work so he can drive me there and back and be supportive as needed. Driving has felt hard throughout the pregnancy, but now my torso is solid enough that I can’t really twist round to reverse very well, so the single track lanes leading to the lanes are particularly undesirable.

In an ideal world I will quickly update you as to how the surgery goes, but, well, I know I might not. Overcoming late-pregnancy fatigue and apathy to post is hard enough, but when you add that I have all the unpredictable emotions on an ordinary day, which this clearly is not, and also could go perhaps go into labour at any point (if the baby came today it would only be 7 days pre-term*), please be aware that there are any number of reasons I might fail to post back in a timely manner.


*I’m much more mindful of the possibility of preterm labour since the yard grapevine told me that Drifter’s dentist, who was due to have a baby 10 days after me, and whose pregnancy everyone on the yard directly compared mine to, had her baby about a fortnight ago. I hear mother and baby are doing well; although of course baby has needed special care from being early, he seems strong.

Sound as a pound?

Drifter seems to be doing well. I have to admit that I haven’t been seeing that much of him and haven’t ridden much in the last few weeks because my ever capricious health has been especially erratic. But helping me not feel guilty about this is the fact that Summer has officially reached the yard!

This means that Drifter is going out overnight, every night unless the weather gets suddenly unreasonable. He is tired and grass-bloated and totally chilled.

The last week before official summer came, I popped him on the lunge in a headcollar for a few minutes to see what he was moving like in the new shoeing (his hind shoes look like an ordinary shoe but the fit and shape look subtly off somehow). I hadn’t bothered to take a whip out with me partly because I was being lazy and partly because I wanted to see if he wanted to move of his own accord. Lunging for diagnosis, not for a workout.

We started on the left rein. He was … irritating. He had no interest in observing even the loosest geometric rules of circles. He had no interest in trotting. If I really asked he’d trot for a stride or two before quitting. Usually he tries but this day was an exception. I was aware it was about 5 minutes before his dinner time, but it seemed he was just going to mess around and do the bare minimum. Well, I thought, I guess he’s still stiff as well as in a bad mood. Hey ho, let’s flip him over and check the other direction.

I sent him off on the right rein. Pretty much as soon as he was on the circle he picked up gallop. Sorry, what?? The circle was round as could be and the horse that said had just said nope to doing anything but a sluggish walk at angles of his own choosing on the left rein, was now galloping perfect circles when he hadn’t even been asked to trot yet in this direction. Apparently he needed to be going this way, and going this way fast. I ignored him and let him get on with it, to be honest. He threw in transitions between gallop, canter and buck and got his steam out. Eventually I persuaded him to trot a little and cooled him off. The right rein canter, when it wasn’t a gallop or buck, was beautiful. Right canter has always been an issue for him, and I’d had no intention for asking for it, especially on the lunge, but it seems he’s fixed that. Even the bucks were pretty nice – much more hind action that he used to get which suggests it’s more comfortable for him to throw those legs out than it used to be.

It definitely suggests that he’s much more comfortable on the right rein than the left, and I know the left has always been his stiff side, so it’s probably got worse.

So when I returned from my sick bed this week, and hopped aboard, I was quite interested to see what I’d find. I wanted to see if he was now capable of working to a reasonable rein length in walk, and maybe in trot if walk went well. It’s one thing for his back legs to have recovered enough to step under him without my weight, but would he be able to do it with me on board?

Well yes, he could. It took some persuading, but I got a reasonable walk on a reasonable rein. He really, really wanted to rush into trot, because it would be so much easier to trot badly than walk properly, but I insisted. And once we got that good walk, then I could get a proper trot transition and have a proper trot, so we did that. We didn’t trot for long, but we did it. Again, in the trot he really didn’t want to work properly (well why should he after so long?) but I was insistent and he was capable. We got such a nice trot on the right rein that when he started offering canter I took him up on the offer. We only cantered for a few meters, because I didn’t want to do much, I wanted to reward the good transition and also because I didn’t want to canter around a corner just yet. I tried to replicate that on the left rein and we didn’t get a transition. On the second attempt we didn’t really get a canter. It might have been a tranter, or just some random legs trying something for a stride or two before trotting again. I didn’t try again, but thought I probably need to try that left canter on the lunge to see if he has the gear there or not.

But the next day came and it was a beautiful morning and I’d had such a pleasantly successful ride the day before so I wanted to get on. Of course it’s easy to be disappointed the ride after a particularly good one, and it took him longer than his impatient rider wanted to warm up to the good place, but he got there again. This time when he started offering right canter I didn’t hesitate to accept it and I managed to get the left canter on the first try, so we now have all gears under saddle in both directions. I was delighted to say the least. The stiffness to the left is quite bad, but he’s always had that, it’s just especially pronounced at the moment. The right canter, if I’m being critical, is overbent to the inside and a bit banana shaped, but I’m just delighted to have both canters. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we hadn’t. Now we have all the gears, all of them can be improved. It’s great to know that if I’m sick or can’t get there I can put a staff member on him for a hack without worrying if he’s up to it. I still won’t have him on the lunge for more than 10 min at a time, and wouldn’t ask for him to schooled above a trot just yet because I believe in being cautious.

Although this is already a long post, I’ll just mention that Amy Woodhead (dressage rider who rides/competes for Carl Hester) was teaching a clinic on our yard and I got to watch one of the lessons. She is amazing, and if you get the chance to learn from her you should definitely do it. She did a really good job of helping someone with their rein-feel, which is a really hard thing to teach or explain. She also gave suggestions on a different bit and bridle to try for the mare, who is always fighting the bit and crossing her jaw. I get the impression she’s hoping to increase the number of clinics she teaches later this year, so there should be plenty of opportunities.

In which we see the vet, and realise we sort of missed him

It was too long since we saw the vet. It was nice to see him again, although I hadn’t missed the apparently obligatory best-part-of-an-hour wait beyond our appointment time.

In terms of history I gave him the potted version of the last blog post, and we did trot ups. There was no lameness in the trot up, but I hadn’t expected there to be. Then we went back to the stable and the vet checked pretty much every joint in the back legs and his sacroiliac with bizarre (to me and D) flexions.

He confirmed what the physio and I thought – the wedge shoes that are really helping the bottom joints of the back legs are causing trouble in the joints higher up. And we need to get him off the forehand before his front legs give up too. So we need to do something different with the remedial shoeing; heart bars or egg bars rather than wedges. He’s going to have a think about the relative merits, then phone the farrier and have a chat about the best approach. He explained that as well as giving  a little more stability to the foot, bar shoes can change how the foot is positioned under the horse and how far under it reaches. I can’t say I fully understand the biomechanics of it, but to be honest, I pay a vet and a farrier to understand that for me!

Because we still have thrush in at least one of the hinds, that I’m really struggling to clear out, we may even have a temporary measure before we go into bars to maximise the chances of getting rid of the thrush. The vet is also sending betadine for the thrush, which will be a relief to have something vet recommended so that when the next in the long line of pet remedies is recommended by someone else in the yard, I can trump it with the vet card. So far we have tried hibiscrub, and two branded thrush treatments whose names I forget. I have not tried the peroxide favoured by at least one person on the yard because I cannot handle bleach smells. I want to throw up when I smell other people using it in the open air half way across the yard. There is no way I can hold a hoof up under my face and pour it in while it fizzes and I have to breath the fumes … [retches at the thought.]

So I’m pretty happy because the vet and the farrier are going to fix new legs on my horse, and then it might be able to do stuff again.

Hopefully the process of transition will be as smooth as possible, but I’ve been writing these posts long enough to know there’ll probably be bumps along the way! It’s a real shame Drifter couldn’t get on with the wedge shoes, because they seemed like a miracle when they first went on, but perhaps that itself was a sign that they were a bit too severe. Hopefully we’ll find a compromise that suits the whole horse.

The vet’s also going to get him something to help him build up muscle as he’s had limited opportunity to do anything constructive recently. Apart from the lack of topline muscling, he was very happy with Drifter’s weight, which I asked about specifically because certain people on the yard are asking pointedly when I’ll be feeding him up again. As I suspected, the vet thinks he is a lovely weight at present. On our yard, horses tend to the plump rather than the thin. My under-worked native is not plump any more, and nor is he thin any more. Certainly he isn’t looking skeletal any more like he was at the end of the diarrhoea times. To an eye used to looking at plump horses, and remembering how plump he was 18 months ago, he might look thin still. But if the vet says his weight is right for him, I’ll take that opinion above all others.

All in all, I was really pleased to have got the vet out, and really pleased that we have a path to go forwards on again.

 

 

In which shoes and saddle are thought to conspire

I’m afraid a lot of this post is recap,  but I’m putting the pieces together a bit differently so I wanted all the pieces together.

Drifter went into wedge shoeing months and months ago to help the lower joints of his back legs. They seemed to work really well for him. He had ordinary shoes with plastic wedges under them.

He came back into work. He hadn’t had a saddle fit for quite a while because he’d been out of work but I knew he was going to change shape fast and he didn’t seem to be having any issues with the saddle. Then he got diarroeah and changed even more, so the fit was postponed again.

As soon as we got the diarroeah sorted, I had a saddle fit. A week or so before the fit, he was found to be a bit sore in the withers by the physio. She also mentioned that he could be having issues with the wedge shoes. In case the soreness was caused by the saddle, I didn’t ride again until the fit. At the saddle fit we changed the Bates 2 gullet sizes and added a lot of foam flocking because there was so much less horse. The fitter explained how although the shape of the too big saddle had been OK for him comfort-wise, it had been tipping forwards over his withers and throwing my weight onto his forehand. After she’d made her changes I felt so much more secure and upright and realised how much I’d been thrown forwards. Drifter was very unsettled during the ridden part of the fit and refused to work soft and round, but I thought it was a combination of the   oddness and out-of-routine mature of saddle fit and the week off riding before hand.

The next day the farrier found thrush under the plastic wedges and had to swap to wedge metal shoes so that the sole could breathe. Whether someone told me they were bigger or whether I imagined that I don’t know, but that was the impression I got. I was worried this would make him sorer, and he did indeed get sorer fast, until he couldn’t  take any rein contact at all. We saw the physio again just before the next shoeing and this time he was sore in both withers and both hind quarters. I told her about the change of shoeing and she thought that was causing it. She said he was unable to take contact because he was unable to take weight on his back legs because the upper joints where at angles he couldn’t handle.  She said some horses just can’t handle wedges, but to give it another 6 weeks to see if he adjusted. I told her I was riding in walk and trot on the buckle and she was happy for us to continue.

Next I saw the farrier, who told me there was no difference in angle or height between the plastic wedges he’d taken off 5 weeks before and the metal wedges he was using now, so he saw no reason why there would have been any change in Drifter now – if he wasn’t handling wedges that should have showed up months ago.

It did not make me happy that my trusted professionals had conflicting opinions, but I reconciled them by seeing that the physio was saying “Do nothing for a few weeks” and the farrier was saying “Do nothing” and so I did nothing. I mostly stopped riding because he wouldn’t let me use reins at all, which ended up with him running off with me in trot one day when he was particularly sore. If I even twitched the rein he ran off faster because it hurt more, so all I had was voice control to ask him to come back to walk. He was stumbling and unbalanced and pain was overriding voice control and we staggered round and round the school in the world’s scariest trot before he finally understood that if he stopped I’d get off and he’d be comfier.

I was not keen to get on again. We handwalked, with the occasional walking lunge session with diagnostic trotting only.

It seemed like the wait and see approach wasn’t working. Yesterday I was reading horse blogs when I suddenly remembered that the problems were starting to show before the week with the shoe change, but ramped up fast afterwards. What else changed? The saddle. He is now in a well fitting saddle that puts the rider in a balanced position.

What if he was already struggling with the wedges but the badly fitting saddle was helping him cope? If he was struggling to take weight on the back legs, the rider’s weight being tipped over his forehand would help him. As soon as I was sitting back, he started fighting the contact because the only way he could counterbalance my weight was to put his nose to the floor and lean everything forwards.

I don’t have a solution, but at least I feel like I know what’s happening. We’re going to see the vet on Monday and hopefully he’ll have some ideas. The physio said heart bar shoes might be an option but I can’t see how they would help with original problems in the lower joints of the hoof/leg. If the vet fancies heart bars and can explain it to me, we might go that route. If it was the only way to make him rideable and the vet approved I would put him back in a too big saddle, but that would be a last resort!

I do have fears he may have to be retired from ridden life if we can’t get this fixed, but we’d cope with that if we have to. At the moment the yard’s occupancy has reduced enough that he gets daily turnout (weather permitting) which helps manage my worry and his activity levels.

Pootling

Drifter is not comfy. It is not saddle related.

He was wearing plastic wedges under his ordinary back shoes. They were great in so many ways, until he got thrush under them. The farrier had to change them for metal wedge shoes which are a bit of a larger wedge.

It is not certain whether this is causing the pain in his withers. But he now has stiffness at the back end as well. Pretty much all the muscles that make up the great roundness of a horse’s butt are tight and uncomfortable for him right now. The physio saw him this week and said that it’s likely the shoeing that keeps him sound in other joints is tipping the stifle to an angle that doesn’t work for him.

He’s happy enough to have me on his back as long as I don’t do anything with the reins. And by anything, I mean holding them. Lay them on his neck and he’ll walk happily. Pick them up to even the longest warm-up length and he’s tense, hollow and unhappy.

I asked the physio what she recommended for his exercise and she suggested we keep on pootling without reins and wait 6 weeks. If he’s just having issues adjusting to the shoeing change, he should be over it by then. If not, time to convene the vet-farrier alliance again and see where we go with it. Unfortunately we’ll soon be coming up to the 12 month cut off on our lameness claim with the insurance, so this could start getting expensive. I need to check the dates…

Diet changes

While we haven’t actually seen the vet since I last posted, we have of course kept in touch. All of the tests the vet ran on Drifter all came back slightly off, but not enough to point to anything specific, so the only option was to treat the symptom (diarrhoea). It seems likely that some specific event upset his gut balance and it hasn’t been able to fix itself although the cause is probably now no longer around. The probiotic hasn’t had a chance to re-populate the good gut bacteria because of the great speed at which it travels through the horse and into the muck heap!

So the plan was to slow everything down. While this could have been achieved medically, we would rather try doing it as gently as possible, so instead of an anti-diarrhoeal we are changing the diet, as you probably guessed from the title of the post.

We needed to go to a molasses-free chaff, so we switched from the ordinary Dengie Hi-Fi that he gets free as part of his livery package to Dengie Hi-Fi Molasses Free, which involved an exciting adventure to the feedshop, where I also remembered to purchase a bin to put it in.

The probiotic dose he was already on was doubled.

To soothe his stomach we are adding vegetable oil. While the vet would like him to have a cup-full in each feed, he knows most horses will reject this, so we started with a tablespoon-full in each feed and are increasing it every few days.

The final addition to his feed is charcoal. This is to slow the gut down and absorb toxins and he’s getting 3-4 tablespoons per feed.

Apart from the oil, everything else changed on the same day and Drifter was not at all sure about it. On the first day I wasn’t there at feed time but the staff said he spit the charcoal on the floor and overturned the bowl, but I was there for the next feed and he ate it fine. Perhaps he needed to learn that he wasn’t going to get his usual feed just because he rejected that one or perhaps it wasn’t well mixed, but since then he’s been OK with it. As a precaution I’ve asked that he doesn’t get his haynet until he’s finished his feed.

A few days on and I’m cautiously optimistic. [This is your Too Much Information warning here….] His bowel movements still begin with a flush of liquid, but the stools that follow are a much better consistency. They hold their shape, are a more uniform colour and the fibre within them looks much more broken down than it did before the diet change. While they’re still not as well digested as those produced by other horses on the yard (yes, I’ve spend a lot of time analysing the contents of the muckheap) they’re definitely a vast improvement.

He also seems to have more energy, and I’m hopeful he may put a little weight back on soon. He has lost quite a lot, which is not surprising. His saddle fit is pretty poor because of it, so we’ve borrowed a prolite pad from a friend until we can get our own. I don’t want to have a saddle fit until his weight settles down a bit though, as it’s too expensive to need another one only weeks later. Hopefully though, if this feed change continues to show benefits, we’ll be booking that saddle fit soon.

Despite the not-so-great saddle, he’s been doing very nicely in the school. We can walk and trot in a great shape, working well without worrying that we will overdo it. I don’t worry about anything in walk or trot now, and although we are still doing very little in canter, when we do canter, it is no uglier than it ever was! Today we had 20 m canter circles on the bit on both reins – the first time we’ve had that since pre-lameness, back in the early summer. The right rein was a bit motor-bike-ish, but still better than I had thought it might be.

Last Sunday I had a lesson booked but didn’t feel well, so once I’d warmed him up in walk my instructor got on. That was really interesting. Drifter looked very nice, of course, being ridden by an excellent dressage rider, and the comments were useful as well as seeing what he did. Of course Drifter gave him plenty of forwards, and made him work hard to contain it into something useful. The main thing the instructor articulated, which I sort of knew but it’s always good to have someone else verbalise it, is that he prefers to just go forwards rather than listen to what you’re asking, particularly if it’s something he didn’t expect. You have to really make him wait, almost stop him, before you ask for something hard or different from what he expected. He also agreed that we need to work on straightness and getting him equally responsive to aids from both sides. When I first got Drifter, Drifter kind of trained me to do everything with my weight or the left rein, because he’d ignore the right rein, leaning on the left, and just rush off like a giraffe if I touched him with either leg. As time’s gone on he accepts the leg better but has never responded equally to either leg because of stiffness issues and his preference for going only off the left rein. These days I can get him into both reins, but he’s still not even in his acceptance of the leg, and easily forgets to be even in the reins if I’m not on his case the whole time about it.

It was really nice to see that my instructor couldn’t get him to leg yield in both direction. One way he did achieve, but every time he tried on the other rein Drifter gave his “sorry I’m too busy rushing forwards” response and didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t do it. I don’t think he understands that a rider can ask him to move in that way or that he could actually do it. It made me feel so much better to see that he doesn’t have a pre-programmed button for leg-yield in that direction – it’s not just that I can’t do it! I know I ought to try programming it from the ground, but our ground-work has ground to a halt since I can’t use any treats because of the dietary restrictions. I know I could do things without treats, but since we’ve begun the whole clicker training and positive reinforcement process, I’m reluctant to go down the negative reinforcement route, and to be honest apart from food I can’t positively reinforce in a way that interests him! He doesn’t really like scratches or pats, and while voice praise is nice, it’s not enough for him without something to back it up.

So for the moment I’m just going to keep trying from the saddle, and accept that this is not an easy thing for him to learn, so it’s not going to just happen. At some point in the future I’m sure we’ll be allowed treats again and we’ll resume clicker training. Until then, work in the saddle is pretty exciting and we have plenty of challenges!