Kissing Spine Files

Part 4

Back in the Saddle

Welcome to the last and final part of the kissing spine files. To be honest, I wasn’t able to write this part until now, 4 months after I decided to retire my horse once again. I was hoping for a different outcome, and I probably could have had one, but read on to find out what happened during our final leg of 'recovering from surgery'.

Back in the Saddle Again

 

With the new saddle ready to go and a few weeks of lunging under our belt, Moose was ready to be ‘backed’ again. At least, that is how it felt. 

 

The lunging program had progressively moved from ‘uncomfortable’ to bold and forward in the months leading up to riding, so I assumed adding weight would follow the same trajectory. He was very comfortable at the walk and canter, but took a little more time to soften at the trot. Our first ride was great. It was the first in a few years. He moved forward at the walk and we even did a little trot in the grass ring. I was smiling from ear to ear, but I was also sadly aware that the process was going to be a long one.  

 

Our rides continued with little improvement, but I pressed on. Walking and doing a little bit of trot a few times a week and lunging on the off days. There were good and bad days. He remembered life under saddle, but I started wondering if the

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ending of this series could be something which I hadn’t yet imagined. He was beginning to show similar behavioural problems he had prior to surgery. Life for him could go two ways: I’d be able to give him to my daughter to ride, or he’d still be the emotional beast he was prior to surgery. 

We hadn’t come this far to just ‘give up’ so I rode 3-4 days a week in brief spurts and continued his lunging as per the recovery recommendations on the other days. 

 

The retirement farm he lived at wasn’t ideal for ring work as it turned into a sponge after a rain. By September, the rain cancellations were lasting days. It was time to move him back into a boarding stable situation and I went back, kicking and screaming. 

 

I loved the peace of the retirement stable. A place where I considered horses as a joy again. After burning myself out in the relentless world of horse management, the retirement farm environment encouraged me remember why I liked horses in the first place. But, in the name of recovery, and my daughter’s desire to ride with others and take lessons, we moved to a nice farm a few minutes away from our house. 

 

Moose’s life changed drastically the moment he stepped off the trailer. He went from a relaxed daily schedule based on the hours of the sun, to tons of stall time and individual turn-out. It was no surprise after a month or two that he would need to be treated for ulcers. Not to mention, a busy boarding stable with scheduled ride times meant I could rarely lunge or ride alone. So, I spent my ride times basically refraining him from attacking other horses, or thinking about attacking other horses. Not the best recovery rides, but at least it was a well-kept facility with a great indoor riding arena for the winter months. 

 

The environment of a structured barn wasn’t the best idea for his (or my) mental health. Long hours in a stall without friends and a small paddock where he lived alone, created agitation, tense muscles and a general unhappiness I could see and feel. The longer we stayed, the worse it would get. It was apparent to me that he did not like his new living arrangements despite working with the knowledgeable staff to improve his daily activities.  I probably wouldn’t have noticed he wasn't happy if I hadn’t had pulled him out of that life for the previous few years. 

 

He dropped weight, stood sadly in his stall and when it came time to ride, he planted his hooves at the arena door. Not only was he depressed and deflated, he was also in pain. His hind quarters were sore to the touch and more vet treatments were necessary. Stretches, physio, injections etc…

 

I spent more money on vet bills during this period than the cost of the surgery. The cost of ulcer medication, general check-ups, misotherapy and other procedures were adding up and the last discussion with the vet on the cost of maintenance to keep this horse rideable was something to laugh at. I was looking back down the barrel of ‘life before surgery’ when I had tried everything suggested by the vets to keep Moose rideable. One thing became very clear to me during this time:

The more you manage horses, the more you have to manage horses.

Read that line again and perhaps shout it out to the people in the back.

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I looked deep within myself. I examined my knowledge of horses and asked myself what my limiting beliefs were. Was I following some sort of belief system that wasn’t serving me? Who were my horse and I serving? Without going into my brain and extracting that entire months long conversation for you, (which is why it took me so long to get this written) I’ll get to the ultimate question I asked myself…

 

What is my definition of success with my horse at this point in time? 

 

I realized my definition had changed throughout this stage of recovery. I had started this journey wanting what I had dreamed of the day my horse was born: to have a nicely bred and scopy jumper who I could enjoy winning classes with. Times sure are different now… Living ‘in the now’ with countless days of my horse planting his hooves at the entrance to the ring, or stepping away from the mounting block made me realize I am not the only decision-maker in this relationship. Sure, my horse can’t look to the future and make plans. He can’t have verbal conversations with me, but he can speak a language that I can understand. His opinion was clear. Moose did not want to be ridden. 

 

With that knowledge, I changed my definition. Success would be defined as: having the courage to say that my depressed fancy show jumper would be a happy field horse. I’ve been in the industry a long time, and I’ve owned a lot of horses. Having the courage to say ‘enough’ is something I don’t see a lot of. Riders, owners and trainers are caught in my situation all the time. A horse that isn’t suited to it’s rider, a horse that needs ample maintenance to keep doing their job, owners who drive their definition of success based on their investment. I know, I have been all of these roles in the industry. The courage to stand up and say success can mean something else doesn't get said enough. 

 

I closed the door to the old ideas of success, and you know what? Not only was my horse the happiest horse on earth the day he returned to his goose chasing paddock buddies, I was too. 

 

Many people who have encountered kissing spine have been able to move forward with a rideable horse. This story is a glimpse into my own experience. 

I hope you have enjoyed my series on Kissing Spine, perhaps taking away of nugget of information that can help you on your own journey. You can reach me with any questions you might have at info@elizabethmccowan.com

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