I realized it has been about five months since I updated everyone on Ax and The Mystery Lameness of 2017, meaning I left off saying I had an unrideable horse and no plans for the future other than keeping said horse sound. Spoiler alert: Thankfully, Ax is now rideable and we are trudging through rehab.
Because we were left with no concrete reason for what had happened, our only rehab plans were to take things the slowest of slow and to maintain consistent chiropractic/acupuncture visits. About a month after he was completely sound, I hopped on bareback in a halter in what was a snap decision, and ten days later I finally saddled up.
Mid-January became our starting point with small ten-minute walks under saddle, and we carefully built up to loose rein trotting and short canter laps over the next month. Just when things were looking like we were headed in the right direction, Ax managed to give himself a nasty cut and bone bruise on his right hind that resulted in another two weeks off at the end of February. We carried on rehabbing in March, gradually increasing the length of our rides and the amount of collection I was asking of him. While he was agreeable for most of the process, there were days where he tossed me an excited buck or came out stiff and made me second guess everything.
It was around this time that our chiropractor/acupuncturist mentioned herbally treating him for ulcers after he noticed some reactive points. Because we didn’t scope, it was one of those “if you see a difference then he has ulcers and it is working” type things, and sure enough, his attitude improved and he was generally just more relaxed.
As we trudged forward, our rides seemed to improve and I was pretty happy with how he was muscling and moving. We were up to riding for 30-40 minutes, half on a long rein and half collected, and I had tossed in some lateral work to spice up our long walk breaks and keep his brain focused.
I’ve said from the start of all of this that I didn’t think that Ax would be able to jump again and I didn’t really care—I was just happy he was sound—but after a particularly good ride at the end of March we trotted over a teeny crossrail with success. He did try to buck me off in excitement on the other side, but the leg held up and there was no sign of lameness following. We actually had our best ride to date the following week!
When the vet came out for a check up and the first round of spring shots in early April, she commented on how great he looked for an 18-year-old that had a good chunk of time off just a few months ago. The chiropractor/acupuncturist agreed on his next visit, but mention some “resistance” in his right hind and some back soreness. As someone who cannot afford a custom saddle for my hard-to-fit horse and is on the heavier side, I am so careful about back soreness to the point where I repeatedly check after every ride and ask the chiropractor/acupuncturist multiples times on each visit. Until then, the answer had always been “nope, his back is fine!” I mentioned that we had an amazing ride the week before, but he had seemed sore and stiff since, so he thought maybe he had just been feeling good and overdone it.
I am not sure what changed, but since that great ride at the beginning of April, everything had gone downhill. Now, every ride is the same battle of trying to get Ax to stay focused, relax, get his butt underneath him, and not go around with his head in the air. I tried getting out of the ring, doing a short hack instead of an intense ride, and even just giving him a week off—nothing helped. I don’t notice any back soreness again, but when I look at him I see a regressing topline and hindquarters. Like a switch flipped, it feels like we are moving backwards.
Rehabbing is hard—hell, no one every said it would be easy! As my frustration and impatience grows, I have to keep reminding myself that five months ago my horse wasn’t even rideable. We eventually get out of our ruts, but I sure as heck am ready to get out now. We will continue on as we wait for Ax’s next chiropractic/acupuncture visit and the saddle fitter early next month, then go from there.