Here's my New Year's Eve post from last year, which set out a plan for 2012. I really needed a plan - things didn't go all that well in 2011, I was still recovering mentally (big, bad fear and confidence issues) and physically from my very bad fall and hospitalization back in June of 2011 and I needed to make some big changes for things to improve. And big changes there were in 2012 . . .
I started the New Year with my three horses at a very small self-care boarding facility that had good trail access, excellent turnout (that Red wan't getting since he was in a separate paddock after being aggressive towards Pie), and a very poorly maintained outdoor arena that was unusable a lot of the time. There were only a couple of other boarders, and the positive social side of riding was pretty much absent. It was very hard to ride with the consistency I needed, both for my horses and me. A great place to be if you like shoveling manure and doing lots of other chores, and only want to ride on the trail, when the weather's not bad. Although I'd been there for years, I finally realized it was the wrong place for me, and that I really needed to ride much more consistently, particularly with one green and two hot horses - I'm a slow learner.
So, in the middle of February (Red and Pie moved later for the reasons described below), Dawn moved to a new boarding barn that's about a 5 minute drive from me. Like any boarding barn, it has its pluses and minuses, but on balance the change has been very good. It meets all my essential requirements - all day turnout in herds, decent hay in adequate amounts, large stalls at night, an indoor arena and people to talk to and ride with, and trail access. And no heavy manual labor . . . And almost as soon as I moved, I was back in the saddle again, riding Dawn after almost two months when I hadn't been able to ride her.
Also in February, I started taking a tai chih class - for balance, breathing and mindfulness, and also a drawing class for mindfulness. Both were great and made a big difference to me. And the joy in riding was beginning to come back . . .
In March, Red and Pie moved to Wisconsin for "college" with Heather Burke. The plan was for them to stay for at least 30 days, or longer if needed, and for Heather to work with them almost daily and for me to go up there two times a week to work with them under her supervision. In the end, Pie was there for about 5 weeks and Red stayed for a full 3 months. I did my twice a week visits and Heather made some big changes in the horses and in my riding, all of which have made a huge difference for all of us. Pie needed some basic training - he was quite green and didn't know too much - and Red needed to let go of his worry and learn to trust again, which took longer - he "knew" more than Pie but a lot of what he knew was all knotted up with worry, and there were layers and layers to work through to rebuild his confidence. The biggest change Heather made in my riding was starting to fix my posture - all it took was remembering to raise my chin and keep my eyes up. She also helped me with improving my following/allowing contact and moving towards making my releases mental rather than physical.
Red got his new name in recognition of all the great changes he was making.
At the end of March, Dawn started to feel odd under saddle, and sure enough, she had EPM - since I'd already had experience with two cases the prior fall, I caught it very early and she made a quick and full recovery. (See the EPM/Lyme page for all the tedious details.) Also, in early April, the cause of Dawn's inability to maintain or gain weight was determined - she had a broken tooth and felt much better after several pieces were removed. She immediately started eating better and her weight quickly returned to normal.
Pie moved to the new barn in early April, and promptly developed EPM as well (his second case, with a different phenotype). Again, we caught it early and treatment was effective, although there was an additional bit to this story later.
By early May, I'd already ridden Dawn over 50 times in 2012, which was more than I'd ridden her in all of 2011. And I bought a used About the Horse Black Rhino trail saddle, which met all my requirements. I was able to determine what tree size to get by consulting with the saddle maker, and the saddle was perfect - it weighs less than 25 pounds since it's part cordura, it has an extra high cantle for security, is beautiful to look at and puts me in a perfect balanced position - one of the great things about these saddles is they're designed so you feel just like you're riding in a dressage saddle, unlike many Western saddles.
In June, Pie and Red and I spent three intensive days with Mark Rashid - we had 6 hours of private lessons and also got to audit the other lessons, all day long. Mark built on the work I'd done with Heather, and also made another big change in my riding - I learned to let go in my back, starting with my lower back, which had been defensively locked up for years do to prior back injuries. We also talked about building softness into all of life, and Mark issued his two challenges to me: to ride all my horses the same and to develop my own style - I've been working on it - see the sidebar "Where We Are, and Where We're Going" for more on this.
In June, after the clinic, Red moved to the new barn and joined Pie. Red adjusted well to the new situation and made a successful transition to the herd - the first time he'd been in turnout with other horses in over a year - he had one depo-provera shot at that time to ease his transition. He is now very close to Pie, and has gradually moved into a dominant position in the large herd. I started taking Pie on the trail again in June, and he's done very well with it.
About three weeks after Red moved to the new barn, he tripped in a corner with deep footing in the indoor while cantering, and almost fell with me. After that, he was significantly off in the left hind. A couple of days later, he apparently got kicked in the hock of the same leg and developed cellulitis. We think he probably strained his Achilles tendon, had some bruising from the kick and may also have strained the sesamoidal ligament. He stayed on full turnout and made a very slow recovery - he would have recovered more quickly on stall rest but mentally wouldn't have done well and the injuries healed with more strength and flexibility as a result (of course this isn't the best course of action for all injuries). His rehab was very slow, and we had one odd neurological set back that may have been an inflammatory response due to his having had EPM in 2011 - we only got back to consistent work in November - but he stayed happy throughout. But then he really didn't make it to staying 100% sound once he was back in work - the lameness came back - much less than initially but still there. I'm still riding him regularly at the walk - he's very comfortable with this and seems to enjoy it, and we do some trotting when he's comfortable, although only a little. Red's scheduled for a full lameness work-up early in the new year: nerve blocks and possibly x-rays and/or ultrasounds so we can get to the bottom of his problem and hopefully improve it. I'm suspecting that the original injury, whatever it was, has healed well, but that it exacerbated some underlying issues, probably hock arthritis . . . but we'll see.
In September, although Pie was working well, he was still very grouchy and muscle sore and also oddly spooky - I had another spin-and-leap sideways fall off Pie in August in the arena, although no harm was done physically or mentally. We decided to test him for Lyme - one other horse at our barn had tested positive and Lyme can cause mental/visual processing issues in horses leading to odd spookiness. Sure enough, he had chronic Lyme, and we began treatment with antibiotics - the treatment took about 6 weeks. Looking back, it's likely he had his initial Lyme infection back in the spring and summer of 2011, when a lot of odd things were going on with him that the vets couldn't explain - colic, laminitis and also one episode of what looked like tying up. Almost as soon as we began treatment for Lyme, his demeanor, movement and spookiness improved greatly - he's now a normal young horse, not an oddly dull horse who suddenly does huge spooks and then returns to being dull. Next spring, I'll be treating my horses' tails with Mosquito Halt before turnout to try to keep the ticks at bay - exposure to Lyme, and treatment, confers no immunity, and we may retest for Lyme in the summer.
I've been doing lots, and lots of riding - I'm trying to ride each horse 5 times a week and most weeks that's what we do. The hours and miles are really benefitting all of us. We've been working together on improving our connection, feel and softness, and the journey is a very good one - we've already come a long way together.
Happy New Year to all - may you all have a happy, productive year with your horses!