lesson notes · rehab

First Lesson Notes

In short: very basic foundational lesson that we both really, really needed.

If I could have asked to address any issues right now, it would be our lack of forward and my tendency to nag. Tris had been out for so long, and I’ve been so tentative about his rehab, that I haven’t really gotten after him the way I should have, and have fallen into the trap of asking every few strides for him to keep going, even at the walk.

That’s exactly what R. addressed after watching us warm up for a little bit. We made a great first impression (NOT) when I asked for the trot, and down the long side I asked for more forward, he flipped his head around, threw his shoulders around, tripped, and slammed my left leg into the wall, dragging it along for a stride or two. There is white paint all on my iron on that side and you should see the lump/friction burn on my knee. It was awesome. Then he head-flipped and tried to hop into the canter and was in general extremely unpleasant, though he started to listen and smooth out nearish to the end. Sigh.

So we worked on isolating driving aids, the idea being that he should darn well listen when I put leg on instead of barely maintaining. My responsibility is to dictate the tempo, his is to maintain the tempo. It was basically a disciplined, methodical version of the good old fashioned aid escalation method: he gets one test to listen to the aid he should respond to, and then he gets pony kicked forward and praised for going forward. We did the exercise in both directions, off each driving aid: leg, seat, whip, voice.

He is not a stupid pony. Within a few minutes he was powering right along with much lighter aids. We did it on a relatively loose rein at the walk and then trot, and then I picked up the reins for more contact and we repeated in both directions at walk and trot. In generally, R. had us going much, much straighter than I am used to – I am used to keeping him in some sort of bend at all times, and she wanted my hands MUCH quieter and to worry about straight and forward instead of bend. It was a good solid lesson and it was simple but not easy. I had to fight my urge to ask him for more bend, more supple, and just focus hard on getting engagement.

We did not exactly put our best foot forward but that’s okay; I think this was a fair representation of our problems right now, and after 11 months I couldn’t possibly expect him to come out and give me the work we had last August. We made clear progress, we have homework, and perhaps most importantly, I liked the way the lesson went, both physically and mentally.

R. had plenty of good things to say, too – she liked my general position, and even apologized for giving such a basic lesson, because she said she could tell we both knew better, and I had all the right answers, we just needed to shore up our foundation before we could move forward again. She liked how generally supple we were and said that once we squared away our forward problem he’ll be easy to get right back where he was. She also said he was looking 100% sound when he was straight (though predictably wonky when he was flailing all over the place) and complimented my rehab generally.

He’ll get tonight off and then back to work on Thursday. Hip hooray for progress!

not-so-quiet-freakout · rehab · spa

Pony Spa Day

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far – Burlington, Vermont tied its record high of 93 for today, a record set in 1955.

I generally go more by feel than the thermometer when it comes to heat, and while it was quite warm it didn’t feel oppressively hot – especially at the barn, which is at a higher elevation and gets an excellent breeze because of its hillside exposure. (That same exposure and elevation makes for some unbelievable cold, but so it goes.)

Our first lesson is scheduled for tonight, a 30 minute intro/checkin with the new trainer, so I wanted to take some time and make him more presentable. We started with a bit of cleanup. I clipped his fetlocks, trimmed his ergots and chestnuts, and rediscovered his bridle path. He grows more ergot than any horse I have ever known – no exaggeration, the one on his RF was 1.5″ long – and it’s tough. I keep a hunting knife in my tack trunk for such occasions, and luckily he is quiet and still, because it took some sawing through to get it down.

Here’s before and after.

Before, bridle path.

Before, bridle path. Ugh.

Before, front feet.

Another before – you can’t see the ergot but trust me, it is there.

After! I didn’t do a perfect job – still getting used to new clippers – but wow, so much cleaner.

Yesssssss, nice clean bridle path!

I don’t ever clip muzzle, and generally avoid doing his chin unless it’s really goat-like. I won’t ever clip his ears – it’s not worth putting either of us through and let’s face it, he’ll never be that show horse and I love him that way.

Then I hopped on and rode for about 45 minutes, keeping my work tuned in to how he was feeling rather than following our strict rehab schedule. We did more or less keep to it, though – walk, trot, and a bit of canter, say 2-3 minutes total, around the ring a few times. After our first canter he thought that every leg aid meant more canter – I think he was mostly trying to get out of giving me an engaged, forward trot, and hopping up and down in a pseudo-helpful manner was more fun than using his hind end.

I brought him to the big water tub just outside the barn door during each walk break, and he did take a long drink after our second bit of canter work, and was fairly warm and a little bit puffy at the end of the ride. We cooled out for about 10 minutes without the saddle.

Next up was a long bath and conditioning of his mane and tail, and I was pleasantly surprised – usually the first bath of the season results in two or three shampooings of brown suds, but I have been hosing him off very thoroughly after each ride and he’s been going out on 100% grass. Turns out that he’s way cleaner when he doesn’t have a mud pit to roll in! His white sock was a bit grimy, so I scrubbed that until it really popped, and then we handgrazed for a bit.

All in all, about four hours of spa treatment and riding. Lesson tonight. I am both very excited and very nervous – it’s always a little anxious-making to ride with a new trainer, and this trainer is riding at a higher level than anyone I’ve ever ridden with!

In conclusion: cutest pony ever.


Keeping on

Nothing terribly dramatic going on. On Monday we inched up to two 10 minute trots. Saying he’s struggling with them sounds far too dramatic, but he’s definitely feeling it – tired at about the 8 minute mark. I’m not pushing him overly hard, but I am trying to push him juuuuust beyond the tired point, and 10 minutes seems to suit us fine right now.

Last night we were in the ring with a green mare getting her fourth ride, who did great while we trotted around. Tris is good with green horses, because he does not care a whit what else is going on in the ring. He’s too focused on his own trauma – oh god NO don’t make me trot FORWARD, mom!

But on the other hand, that slow&steady character means that last night when I had to take a 20 minute work call in the middle of our ride I walked him up to the outdoor ring and he just walked around steadily the whole time, chilling. Maybe not the smartest or safest thing I’ve ever done, but it needed to be done and I didn’t want to/didn’t have time to get off, untack, and then take the call.

Last night I also asked him for a very short little canter on the right lead, down the long side. He picked it up nicely, got the correct lead, and didn’t need urging to keep it. It felt good to canter again – first time in probably about 9 months now, and his first canter in almost 11 months. Given how he’s adjusting to the longer trots we may hold off a bit on cantering, but it’s good to know it’s in there without difficulty!

I’m working at the barn semi-regularly – usually a day or two a week. I had held off on buying muck boots because I didn’t want to do too much searching, but I think I’m going to need to make a wider circle and buy some after all. It is still ark-like here, although we might finally start to ease into the weekend. I’m tired of everything being sticky and damp and smelly.



I wish I could say I was up and at ’em and raring to go to the barn after work yesterday, but it was more like a steady progression of putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually I threw a leg over Tristan’s back and rode.

It was a good ride, though he was definitely feeling the humidity and the increased level of work. I debated easing off the rehab schedule or even skipping a week with his time off this week, and decided to proceed as if normal and keep an eagle eye and ease off he felt weak or not up to it. He held up fine, but was definitely quite warm at the end, so after our second trot I pulled the saddle and got back on to walk him out bareback. I spent quite a while hosing him off, too, amidst rolling thunder that never actually arrived at a storm. We’re getting closer and closer to bathtime – I figure I’ll tackle it as soon as I have an extra hour to spare at the barn. He doesn’t exactly need it, but he looks so terrific after he’s gotten one.

Having such an obsessive focus on timing and his fitness helped me uncover two things this week. The first is that his stiff/don’t-wanna/grumpy phase in the first trot lasts almost precisely 3 minutes. Were he in full work, I would canter him around a time or two standing up in the stirrups; with that option unavailable I push him forward through the trot, asking for more and more forward, maybe even more than I need, post generously, and push the reins forward, giving him his head entirely as he tends to flip it around in protest. At about 3 minutes he warms up/gives up and reaches for the bit and we start talking again.

The second is that for the first time last night, in his second trot, instead of stretching forward into a loose rein he started to do a little bit more heavy diving on the forehand. So I gathered in another few inches of rein and picked up his frame a bit, countering the dive. It seemed to me he was signalling he’s ready for a higher quality of work, or at least that he needs a higher quality of work to continue to support him. Trotting around in mostly straight lines, on a soft stretchy contact was good to get him started, but I think we’re ready to move on from that.

Hopefully I will have some pictures and video of tomorrow’s ride to show what I mean.


Slowest rehab ever?

I’m beginning to think I might be overly cautious in my rehab schedule. (Which will not shock anyone who knows me…)

Tris is 100% sound, and we’re not worried about rehab-induced re-injury; it’s not a soft tissue problem. His hoof has healed over, the bone has sealed, etc. Our only limitation is fitness: muscles, wind, and old-horse joints (he is 18 this year).

So here’s our schedule, followed 5 days a week with 1 day completely off for recovery and starting this week, 1 day of a long road hack with hills. We are about to start Week 7.

Week 1: 20 minute walk
Week 2: 30 minute walk
Week 3: 15 minute walk, 5 minute trot, 10 minute walk
Week 4: 20 minute walk, 5 minute trot, 15 minute walk
Week 5: 15 minute walk, 5 minute trot, 10 minute walk, 5 minute trot, 5 minute walk
Week 6: 15 minute walk, 5 minute trot, 10 minute walk, 5 minute trot, 15 minute walk
Week 7: 15 minute walk, 7.5 minute trot, 10 minute walk, 7.5 minute trot, 10 minute walk (Day 6: 60 minute road hack @ walk)
Week 8: 20 minute walk, 7.5 minute trot, 10 minute walk, 7.5 minute trot, 15 minute walk (Day 6: 60 minute road hack @ walk)
Week 9: 15 minute walk, 10 minute trot, 10 minute walk, 10 minute trot, 15 minute walk (Day 6: 60 minute road hack @ walk)
Week 10: 15 minute walk, 10 minute trot, 5 minute walk, 10 minute trot, 5 minute walk, 2-3 minute canter, 10 minute walk (Day 6: 60 minute road hack @ walk)
Week 11: 15 minute walk, 10 minute trot, 5 minute walk,  10 minute trot, 5 minute walk, 5 minute canter, 10 minute walk (Day 6: 60 minute road hack @ walk)
Week 12: 15 minute walk, 10 minute trot, 5 minute walk, 10 minute trot, 5 minute walk, 10 minute canter, 10 minute walk

At Week 12, I’ll feel comfortable chucking the more rigid timing and going back to work based on feel. Right now the trots are mostly straight lines, with him in the bridle but not really properly on the bit, more focused on rhythm and softness and rideability than dressage. Last night, we trotted up a small hill, and I’ll continue to incorporate that and poles and other strengthening exercises as he feels able. We should finish the second week in August. At about that time we might introduce some hand gallop in the ring. I’ll have to do some thinking about a proper gallop set; there isn’t really anywhere flat with decent footing for this nearby. All the good fotting is on some sort of an incline, and all the flattish stretches are on hard-packed dirt road, so it will depend on how he feels in hill work at the trot and canter. We’ll also take jumping as we see fit; certainly not until this schedule is complete but it may be that we take advantage of the dressage trainer before she goes back to Florida and hold off on jumping until the eventing trainer comes back to clinic in the winter. Then again, I might get too tempted by the jumps in the upper ring before then and pop over a few.

eta: I might also add lessons in at Week 10, once a week, to focus on re-starting the canter right – that’s always been our challenge and it would be good to have some help from the beginning.

What do you think? Most pointlessly over-cautious and slow rehab in history, or a sensible, gradual plan?

foxhunting · rehab


I gave Tristan the night off last night after the barn manager texted to tell me he looked fine to her.

Got to the barn tonight and walked, then trotted him out in the indoor: 100% sound, tracking up, etc.
Well, okay then! I’m just going to smile and nod and move on.
He’s really starting to get into a rhythm with his trots, and I’m introducing a few steps of leg yield here and there. The 40 minutes of walking we do feels excessive right now but starting next week we will swap it for trot, 5 minutes at a time.
I’m going to start working at the barn now and then to pay for lessons as soon as he’s fit again, and I’ve gotten advice from friends about a fitness plan for fix hunting this fall. Basically, we’ll aim for BN fit with lots of road work and we’ll be fine. I’m looking forward to it!
adventures with the vet · rehab

God Damn It.

Last night I wasn’t quite feeling it – it had been pouring rain all afternoon and I mostly wanted to go home and curl up with a book – but I headed out to the barn, tacked up, and got on.

We did 15 minutes of walking, then 5 of trot, and while it was stiff to start off with we really hit a nice rhythm by the end. I’m focusing hard on rhythm more than anything else, and in the last few rides we’ve really nailed it. This was the first ride we nailed it in the first trot.

Then we walked again, and about three minutes into the walk, he went lame. No funny step that I could feel. Literally from one step to the next he went from ambling along on a loose rein to stumbling drunkenly. I pushed him through a few strides, then got off and walked him in hand to watch, then put him on the longe line.

Definitely off, definitely left hind. His right front, his surgery foot, was totally fine, but his LH was not tracking up and was swinging to the outside. It was far worse tracking left, and he was head-bobbing. He looked alllllmost ok to the right. When I halted him he rested the LH.

I brought him back to the aisle, untacked him, and ran my hands down every inch of his leg, palpated all over, compared with the RH, did everything I could possibly think of to detect ANYTHING, and nothing. No heat, no swelling, no nothing. He kept picking up his foot when I poked at his fetlock but that is SOP for him (it’s his favorite foot), and while it had some fill it matched the RH fill and again, not at all out of the ordinary for him. (Front legs were clean and tight all the way down.) I rubbed some Biofreeze into the fetlock because I had some samples and I wanted to do something, however likely useless it was.

Ok; I walked him up and down the barn aisle to see if something had resolved, and again, not quite tracking up, swinging a bit to the outside, and when I turned him in the aisle to the left to go back he stumbled – like when he put his weight on that LH to swivel he couldn’t balance on it.


Hopefully he took a slightly funny step, tweaked a muscle, and just needs a few days of rest. All of our work has been focused on building up his hind end, so he may have been a bit overstressed. The barn manager will let me know how he walks out of his stall today, we’ll keep an eye, and he’ll have a massage on Monday that will help with assessment and possibly treatment. If there’s no improvement or clear cause, we’ll get re-acquainted with our vet next week.


Change of Plan

SOME PONY decided last night to throw an offroad bucking fit through a stand of apple trees.

I’m not naming names, but it might have been certain bay roan mustang who lost his brain and subsequently made poor life choices.

I was staying inside, right? Last night I brought Tris into the ring and, as always, dropped my stirrups and tightened my girth in the middle of the ring, and on the way over to the mounting block he made so many sad, pathetic, longing looks outside that I said ok, fine, we’ll walk on the roads for a bit and then do our trot work in the outdoor ring. He was so very happy and springy!

Then when we were walking on the road back to the barn to work in the outdoor, a big commercial rig pulled up alongside us, and I asked Tris to step a little bit off the road to let him pass. The driver stopped and asked directions to my barn, which was barely a quarter mile over the hill, and Tris got antsy next to the big truck. I finished giving directions, and the horse on the rig let loose a double barrel kick and Tris LOST. IT.

I was never in danger of falling off, but oh man I was pissed. When I got four feet on the ground again I let loose a decent crack with my dressage whip to send him straight and forward back home. In the meantime we were up-and-down-and-spinning through several apple trees just off the road, and I was wearing short sleeves. My arms were white with scratches and I had leaves in my helmet and stuck in the saddle.

We walked back to the indoor and I asked for a 5 minute trot, by the end of which he was huffing and puffing like he’d come off XC. We walked out for a looooooong time and when he’d recovered we trotted again just for 2 minutes or so, and while he was walking out and recovering from that we went to investigate the rig, walked all around it, sniffed it, and generally discussed being a nicely mannered pony with an ounce of brain matter.

Oh, pony.



I am, by nature, a worrier. In case you couldn’t tell that already from reading my previous entries. Most of the time, it’s nothing; sometimes, it ends up helping.

Anyway. Yesterday, I got up early and was saddled up and starting with our walk by 7:30 a.m., so that I could go to a staff meeting at work and then have my day free to run errands. (My second office, in the admin building of my organization, is only 10 minutes from the barn; home is closer to 25; if I was going to go in for the meeting on my day off it made sense to combine the trips.)

Walk felt fine, though he was a bit ticked about working before he’d even had grain. The trot felt, quite frankly, awful for the first 3 minutes or so. I couldn’t get a consistent contact or bend, and he was tripping all over the place. I was worried enough to get off and jog him out and watch the RF.

He’s totally sound on the RF, but he was overall stiff and a bit wonky. At the time, I worried, and I’m still not thrilled, but I’ve reasoned it out: he’d been in his stall all night; Sunday is a shorter turnout day because of the barn staffing; he’s been working hard to build muscle and he’s probably low-level sore.

Sure enough, in our second trot he was much more even and fluid, and when I had him actually moving forward and on a bit of contact he felt like a million bucks. It was when I let him go behind the leg, or when I dropped the contact that he got uneven and a bit trippy behind. (Once or twice when I asked for a bit of bend it was like he’d forgotten how to coordinate his back legs, went for a teensy bit of crossover with his hind legs on the turn and whooooooosh, goodbye hind end, as in it dropped out from underneath me as he tripped. Sigh.)

This week, our pattern is 15 walk – 5 trot – 10 walk – 5 trot – 5 walk, for a total of 40 minutes. We’ll stay indoors so we can work on flat, even, forgiving surfaces and resume a bit of hillwork next week. If it weren’t so bloody cold and rainy I’d be giving him some Vetrolin or other liniment rinses after work, but he’d stay wet the rest of the day if I did that. Summer seems to have forgotten about Vermont.


Ho Hum

We had a really lovely ride Thursday, all around the big hay field, a long peaceful walk with Tristan munching on the one bite of long grass he snatched at the beginning, grass brushing almost at my knees at times and the mowed path just barely discernable in spots. The edges, alongside the creek, were squelchy and soft and there were one or two steps that sent my heart to my throat keeping my fingers crossed for his shoes, but he did fine. (And now I know not to repeat that ride until we’ve had a few more days of sun!)

Then up to the outdoor ring for our trot set, which went reasonably well though we had discussions about wiggliness – flinging his shoulders in the direction of the gate, speeding up with the barn in sight, blowing off the far corners. Not an unusual conversation to have with him for his first few rides in the outdoor. He also offered up about a 10 second temper tantrum – 2-3 big arched-back bucks, which I kicked him out of, which led to a high-headed bolt of 2-3 strides, which I stopped by turning him hard and kicking him off one leg to interject bend, then 2-3 decent-sized crowhops which subsided when I pulled his head back up and sent him forward.

I’m not sure whether he took a funny step, had a momentary flash of temper, got divebombed by a bug, or got spooked. (The last would be out of character for him.) Once it was over he went back to well-behaved and orderly and we had some nice trot circles.

Last night, Friday night, was not so good. I was running late from work and unsettled from the things that had kept me there, and he had just finished his (bare handful) of grain, so I balked and moved slowly changing and getting his tack. When we set out he was very looky at the farrier’s trailer, which lives next to the back barn, and which he’s passed a dozen times. He was sluggish and uninterested in hacking out, and I wished I’d brought a whip for our trot. It was shorter overall – only maybe 30 minutes. Maybe he was a bit tweaked from our long pasture ride and his bucking fit, maybe he didn’t want to play after dinner.

It’s not out of character for him to have slower days, though, and I watched the shadows of his legs like a hawk on our road ride, paid careful attention to what I as feeling, and he was moving soundly and evenly, if a little short and lazy.

He’ll get the weekend off as I travel for a family thing, and Monday morning we’ll bump up to 30 minutes walk, 10 minutes trot, and see how he handles that.