Some of you have been following my adventures over the last 11 months with my horse Oliver. The silly grey beast whom in a split second learned the hard way that, his foot definitely did NOT fit there. ( As my friend Betsy likes to say in reference to horses with silly foot or leg injuries).

He ruptured a ligament on the outside of his hock joint. I will spare him any further embarrassment describing how it happened but if your interested check out some of my other posts. Suffice to say he was very, very silly and incredibly lucky.  None the less, after spending an entire spring, summer and much of fall in the penalty box, he is finally back to full turnout living the slum life, and achieving a nag level status of excellence.

We were given full clearance in November 2016 to move up from tack walking and slowly to full work. Starting with 5 minutes of trot and adding 5 more minutes weekly working up to 30 minutes before cantering. Weather, work & a round of bronchitis on my part has not been helpful. But I’m fine with taking it slow.

Oliver has grown very weary watching me bring along Lego,  his 4 year old nephew while he’s been sidelined. Oliver is just one of those special ones, I’m super attached to him and the feeling is mutual. I am his person. He’s been quite sad watching me load up for lessons on Lego, or head off for a hunter pace over the last few months. When I turn the corner home with the trailer on our road he often lopes to the fence yelling in greeting and obviously irritated he had to stay home.  How dare I put someone else on HIS trailer!

I’ve been hesitant to canter him because with the weather and work I felt he wasn’t fit enough. I promised him if we could string 3 days in a row together of work that he could canter. He met that goal in late January, and was super excited he was getting to canter again. Normally I have to hassle him to stay in front of my leg, always has been spur ride and never once needed any kind of sedation to go tack walk or start back to work. No hassling on canter day though, not a bit. Just a little squee of excitement and 2 laps in each direction followed by a little disappointment that we were done, and some huffing and puffing for his lack of fitness.

Apparently that simple act flipped a switch in his sweet little head. “I’m fixed, lets go, time for jumping, lead changes, lessons and horse shows. Break out the body clippers mom, and shave this thick filthy orange sherpa off me and go find my heavy blankets. Where have you put the mane comb, have you seen this rats nest? I need a mane pull STAT. Where’s the show calendar which one are we going to, that one? or that one, can we go to Camden or Aiken and see the gang?”

So cute right? I love thoroughbreds but this guy is something else. I’ve been trying to tell him ever since that day, NO, just because we canter now does NOT mean we are going to pack up and go have a jumping lesson.

I’ve got plans on bringing him back slowly. Right down to getting his flat work back on point.- He may be a hunter but when I brought him a long as a youngster I made sure he learned all the Big Eq buttons. I wanted him super well educated on the flat before he ever jumped a fence.

So it plays to reason that on my plan, I want him fit enough to do all his flat work before he gets to start loping courses again. True, we are going to skip some of the extreme things as he is supposed to avoid tight small circles. But I don’t want to cut corners.

Today was a huge mile stone. I’ve had concerns of how stable the joint will with a ruptured ligament in his hock. I’m not really sure if there is a past tense for that.  – At turn out it’s clear Oliver has no reservations, I swear he makes sure I’m looking when he starts a wrestling match with Lego as they stand straight up. But I just want to be conservative. I had concerns he may no longer have a lead change. his right to left was tough for him as a youngster. It has been auto for several years, but still.. I was concerned because he has SO MUCH HEART, I know he wouldn’t hesitate to turn himself into a pretzel if it meant giving me the swap and ending up hurt. So even though he keeps asking, I’ve been putting him off and working on slow simple changes of lead from the walk and trot.

Well nerd boy decided today he’d had enough of my baby steps. I’ve started doing some large canter circles with him the last few times I’ve ridden him as part of his leg up. This morning he blatantly defied my outside leg and inside rein while circling right and as we passed through the center of the ring, he gave me the middle hoof and before I knew what happened he’d swapped leads. Tossing his head and shaking his neck saying “SEE! SEE!!! STOP BABYING ME.” I should note he’s very quiet, has a very soft mouth and goes in a smooth jointless mullen mouth snaffle on a loose rein. He’s just easy and it’s very out of character for him to just do something without being asked.  Underscore “Add Leg” a few dozen times on course, the minute you ‘see it’ and take your leg off, the distance evaporates faster than a gene in a bottle. ;D

I had to laugh, what more can you do? I can’t punish him for having a work ethic. I gave him a big pat and brought him to a walk. He was obviously quite proud of himself in both the swap and his communication skills. I shortened my reins and let him canter and give me a swap the other way and let him quit. He did offer to be a real smarty pants and drift me toward a few cross rails. To which he got a resounding NO, NOT YET.

Maybe I’m being a big baby and being TOO conservative. But as his person, I feel I’d never forgive myself if I pushed him to quick or too soon and he reinjured himself. Yes, the vets tell me he may re injure it again some day. But his injury is rare and there is little documentation out there on the long term.

When we were released from care for the injury, Dr. Parks at UGA cautioned me not to push him, but also not to let him go to waste. Oliver is 11 this year, and apparently has a long list of things he wants to do before he achieves full lawn ornament status as a retiree. For that I am grateful, although we missed out on an entire year of fun with friends, it would have been worse if he was forced to permanently hang up his shoes.

My plan for now, if Oliver lets me stick to it, is graduate to cross rails in March. I’ve set a small loose goal of June for his first show back, probably just in the low hunters. I am hopeful that we will find all the jumps successfully and not feel like I need to have the steward deliver an apology card with a bottle of wine to the judge after my trip! But above all else I look forward to getting him back to the ring happy, healthy and doing what he enjoys most, being my team mate.

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