This is Ike's "I don't feel good face"

This is Ike’s “I don’t feel good face”

The look on Ike’s face says it all.  It was a tough week leading up to our show weekend.  In fact, the decision to go didn’t happen until 6 hours before my first ride time.  Can you say cutting it close?

My elation from my successful ride on Tuesday turned to despair on Thursday.  I knew after two or three strides of the walk that something wasn’t quite right.  Huh?  How can this be?  Not now!  We have a two-day licensed show and there are no refunds!!!

Ms. C was with us since we were going to do our lesson.  I knew from the look on her face that she could see something was wrong as well.  We attempted some trot and the issue became more apparent.  Ike was short striding and moving very uncomfortably.  I dismounted and we poked, prodded, and felt every joint, leg and hoof.  Nothing screamed, “here is where the problem is.”  Ms. C hooked Ike to a lunge line and put him  on a small circle.  Ah, the right front shoulder and leg started to look stiff.  Crap.

I took Ike back to the barn and debated what to do.  To be safe, we cold wrapped the leg and soaked the right hoof in a Epsom salt bath.  Now what?!  Off to the car to grab the cell phone….and placed a call to the vet.  As luck would have it, she was close by and made it within an hour.  Her exam found some sore muscles in the left hip and right shoulder, a reactive nail in the left front, and a sore sole for the right front hoof.  Sheesh!  Three of Ike’s four legs.  That didn’t bode well for the weekend.  The vet recommended pulling the nail, soaking the hooves, and giving Ike some bute.  [note to self – time to refresh my knowledge of the USEF drug rules and guidelines.]  Ms. C’s husband is a farrier and he was kind enough to pull the offending nail.  All we could do was wait for Friday to come.  Sleep was elusive as I stressed about Ike’s condition.

Friday dawned a beautiful day…a perfect day to ride….or so I hoped.  Ike’s demeanor was much more perky which was a positive sign.  But how would he go under saddle?  I quickly tacked and headed to the ring.  The walk was normal, and while the trot was greatly improved, it wasn’t show worthy.  Big sigh.  For one last ditch effort, our farrier came Saturday morning to put some Equi-pak on Ike’s hooves to help the soreness.  Ike looked sound after a quick spin around the ring, so the trailer was packed and the Easiplait Braiders were put in place.  Off we went with Ike’s mother experiencing just a wee bit of stress.  I cannot give a thumbs up to our experience as a recommended show preparation routine.

Not sure what made the most difference or if it was pure luck, divine intervention, my HJU Sister Socks, or a miracle?  It doesn’t really matter, but what I do know is that there are many take away lessons from this experience that have nothing to do with the color of the ribbon or the number on the score sheet…although I will admit that I jumped up and down in the aisle of the barn after earning our first qualifying score for the regional finals.

Ike and I at Rosinburg Dressage.  Photo by Doug Crooks.

Ike and I at Rosinburg Dressage. Photo by Doug Crooks.

The Lessons Learned…

Be an excellent client/student/friend/partner.  Unless you are a superhuman, you cannot succeed in this sport alone.  You need a tremendous support team to make your goals come to fruition.  You need to be a reliable client for your veterinarian, trainer, and farrier if you need to call in any favors.  Be willing to reschedule your appointments on occasion when they need to take care of someone else’s emergency – one day you will be that emergency call.  Pay your bills on time.  Show up on time to all appointments.  Show your appreciation and most definitely, say thank you.

Be kind to your pet sitter so that they will be willing to come let the dogs out and feed them while you are at your weekend show.  The kindness is especially important when you have to tell them that you may or may not need them, but can they still keep their calendar open just in case.

Be willing to be the supportive “ear” for your friends so that when the tables are turned, they will be there as you vent your latest horse woes.  Saying thank you to them is also not optional.  Express your gratitude over and over again.

And lastly, kiss and hug your mate when the roller coaster ride of emotions is over.  They might not always understand your crazy obsession with your horse, but they hop on the coaster next to you to wipe your boots, drive the truck, scoop horse poop, and retrieve your tests and ribbons.  If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

You are not your score or the ribbon color.  Who among us doesn’t fret about the score we see on the front of the test?  Especially when you know that 55% is going to get posted at the show and online for the world to see.  Will they think I’m an idiot who cannot ride?  Will they secretly smirk and take joy in my bad luck?  Before you sell the trailer, turn the horse out to pasture and throw away those sweaty riding clothes, take that test home and read the individual scores used to calculate that final average.  Yes, all the scores.  Yes, all the comments, even the bad ones.

Once you read the individual scores and comments, you realize that up until your horse decided to spook in the corner when it came time for the canter transitions, you were scoring 6.5s and 7s.  You know that those 4.5 marks with “horse looks tense” and “explosive transition” comments are due to the horse getting scared by the judge’s booth (there is video as proof).  Yes, you have to take your hits for those moments, but you rode through them and stayed on the horse and in the ring.  The judge can only comment on that 7 minute ride they see that day.  Come back another day and try again….and get a 69.4% on Training Level Test 3 that wins you the class riding in front of the same judge.

This is a tough sport.  In order to succeed, you will most likely fail once or twice or more times than you wish to remember.  It will teach you patience and perseverance if you stick with it.  You will be a better person for living through the hard times.  It makes the good moments that much more special.

At the end of the day, hug your horse.  I think we sometimes forget that our horses are not machines.  They are living, breathing creatures with minds of their own.  If only we could really peer inside those brains to know what was they are really thinking.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could tell you exactly where they hurt and how bad the pain was?  Unfortunately we cannot read their thoughts, so we are left to interpret the symptoms before us as best we can.

We must be the best advocates for our horses and make the best decisions for their health and well being, even if it is not always best for our checkbook or our egos.  Had Ike still been off after the Saturday morning farrier visit, I would have scratched my rides.  Yes, it would have been disappointing, but it would have been the right thing to do.  I got lucky this time.  Big Man came back strong and showed everyone just what strong character he possesses.  Our horses give us their all, the least we can do is give them a hug.

Read all my blog posts here