March 11, 2008

Miracle Mare: Above and Beyond

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A friend of mine is working on a book and had asked me if there were any situations I’d like to share where my horse had gone above and beyond what might normally be expected.

My initial reaction was ‘Where do I start?’

I have lost almost half of Isis’s available riding time to medical issues. Isis had two boughts with laminitis and recovered fully with little to no rotation and the farrier has said several times that Isis’s feet look perfectly normal. We had a riding accident in 2005 caused by Isis tripping due to thin soles from the laminitis. Grazing muzzle, spiffy shoes, supplements, low starch grain, and chiropractic treatments later: she fully recovered from the laminitis and her IR is carefully managed.

I have always wanted to show Isis. Ever since she was little, I had dreamed about taking her to shows and winning under saddle or over fences. When we were in the middle of dealing with her medical issues, I never though I would get to show. There were days I would have been happy to know that she would be safe to ride.

It’s hard to imagine how far she had come by July 2006. Laminitis behind her, new shoes to help her tender feet, and chiropractic work so her muscular-skeletal system was working well. Her rain rot was under control thanks to the supplements she was on. Finally we were making progress. My vet had cleared Isis for regular work and for some jumping (nothing very high, and not a lot of it over sustained time periods).

My riding instructor and I had discussed whether to take Isis to a show that summer. We both agreed it might be a better idea to let me get some experience on a seasoned show horse and then take Isis to a later show. Besides, the trailer was full so we didn’t have space for Isis. I focused on working my instructor’s horse and didn’t ride Isis that much prior to the show.

The day before we left for the show, my instructor asked if I would like to take Isis. There was space on the trailer. I jumped at the chance to take her to a show just for the experience for both of us. That evening, I went to the barn, pulled her out, worked on her gaits, and jumped her a few times over cavaletti. We also cantered on cue for the first time since our riding accident in 2005.

The next day, my trainer picked us up at the barn and hauled us over to where the rest of the riders were meeting to caravan. My instructor had me pull Isis off the trailer and then tack up for a quick riding lesson. This was the second time Isis had ever been ridden away from home and the first time she had ever seen a ring with a full jump course (the jumps were lowered to 18 inches for us, instead of the 2’6″ for the other riders). She had never seen plastic flowers around jumps. She had never been ridden in a ring with more than one other horse, much less horses she didn’t know.

My instructor was skeptical: last time she had seen Isis and I riding, we had a lot of work we needed to do. She was pleasantly surprised. Not only did the Bay Wonder Mare take the jumps (after some encouragement) and do a course, but she eagerly headed towards the jumps. The other horses didn’t even bother her.

We rode at the show that evening to practice on the jump course. All of the jumps we took at home were cross rails. The jumps in the ring were set at 2 feet and were solid rails with flower boxes. I was nervous. I’d never asked her to jump anything like that. Of course, she picked up on it and shied at one of jumps.

The last time I had done a jump course at a show was on my old Appaloosa gelding when I was in high school. He had a bad habit of shying at a fence: teleporting sideways and leaving me hanging. I remembered that experience and became nervous because I expected her to do the same thing.

We approached the jump several times and each time she shied. I was a nervous wreck. My instructor had me get off of Isis and let one of the other girls ride her. They worked with her again on going over the fence and she did it. I then got back on her and we took the fence. Humiliating to not be able to deal with a situation like that and nerve wracking. My confidence had felt demolished — until we really rode together and took that jump. And took it again and again.

The next morning, Isis and I rode in the warm up ring before our classes. There were probably 20-30 people in that ring riding at different gates, taking jumps left and right. It looked like a swarm of bees trying to find the entrance to a hive. And we rode in that. And survived. Isis was jumpy at first – because I was nervous with all of these kids running around. It was worse than driving on the beltway around DC during rush hour.

My instructor gave me excellent advice: you can’t be nervous if you sing. I picked a silly trotting-speed ditty and sang. I calmed down, Isis calmed down and things improved. The biggest distraction turned out to be not from the other horses in the ring – but from the other horses tied to the trailers parked on the hill. Isis kept whinnying to them. No matter what I did, she was always looking for her buddies.

Because this was my first show in way-too-long, I decided to do something simple. Our classes were in the Walk-Trot division: three over-fence classes with 18” jumps and one under-saddle class. We had 9 people in the division, seven kids on ponies and two 30-something adults.

The biggest surprise of the day? Isis loved it. She headed for the jumps and wanted more. After the first ride, we were both grinning. The second ride, she knew her stuff. We even cantered the course in the the third ride. My instructor was impressed. Isis did pretty well in the equitation class, too. In fact, she kept trying to head for the jumps. We had a few bumps where she pulled against the bit, but that was more my fault than hers.

At the end of the equitation class, Isis and I waited in the line up. I wasn’t expecting anything. I knew we hadn’t done that well, but you know, the fact that we had gotten through it was amazing. I did a double-take when the announcer said our names. And then I grinned and couldn’t stop grinning. (I’m still grinning as I write this.) Isis and I won sixth place in all three of the over fence classes and then took fifth in the under saddle class.

She went above and beyond my expectations and certainly those of my instructor. Isis tackled a set of new situations and obstacles with intelligence and curiosity – and would have done a lot better if her spastic Mom had been calmer initially.

Later I realized that it’s possible that all of the people in that division got ribbons, but you know what? I don’t really care. Those ribbons represent a dream come true after years of dealing with assorted problems and medical issues. To this day, they still hang on her tack room door along with the show number.

Six weeks after this horse show, Isis had colic surgery on August 28, 2006. She fully recovered and we’re now working on low-level dressage lessons. We jump periodically as a reward for a job well done.

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