Dawn is getting older - she'll be 16 in a few months. She's having her usual winter/spring difficulties maintaining her weight, despite getting adequate calories. She just had a blood draw for an ACTH and insulin test, so we can determine if she's got anything metabolic going on. She's shedding out a bit better than she did last year, and her eyes are bright. But her gaits have gradually lost their "spring", even in the pasture, although she moves well and is sound - yesterday I saw her do a beautiful canter all the way across the pasture. I expect her joints are getting a bit stiff, and I've got her on some aspirin (when I can persuade her to eat it) to help with that.
She's in very regular work - 5 days a week - and all day turnout, both of which I believe are good for horses with arthritis. I no longer do strenuous work with her, like flying lead changes. But we motor around, usually in forward trot, for at least 30 minutes each time we ride. She seems to enjoy it. I've noticed recently in the freshly dragged arena that she tends to drag her hind toes slightly at the trot, the right hind more than the left. The fronts of her hind feet also show some wear from the toe dragging. She doesn't trip or stumble, just doesn't push with the hinds like she used to - it's probably hock arthritis.
So to help her out I've started doing some "thinking" the feet when we trot. This was something Mark had me do at the clinic last year with Pie. As we were trotting along, he told me to "think" the feet lighter - to have the impact of each hoof not be as heavy. He said he wouldn't tell me how to do it, that it was up to me to feel it and transmit that feel to the horse - it isn't really a mechanical/aids thing, it's more a matter of energy and "being" the feet. It was a pretty interesting experience and very effective.
So I've been trying that with Dawn, to help her lift those hind legs and drag her toes less. I was thinking "lift" for the hind feet to push and lift more - I was trying to "be" the hind feet. I was pleased yesterday that after the arena was dragged and we were trotting, I could see a visible improvement in the toe dragging in the sand - there was a difference between our trot work before I was "thinking" - I let her warm up without asking for anything extra in trot - and after - the drag marks were absent or much shorter. I could feel the difference when riding, too - her trot was more animated. Getting those hocks moving is probably the best thing for her, so long as she doesn't get sore.
Pie and Red both have had lovely rides in our beautiful weather. Someone was going to the outdoor arena for a lesson, so Red and I, after a good bit of nice work in the indoor - the brace is now completely gone - took advantage and went with them. Red's only been in the outdoor - which is several hundred yards from the barn or from any other horses - a couple of times last year. He was outstanding - we did some lovely trot work and he remained relaxed and happy - I think he really enjoys being outside.
Then Pie and I also had a wonderful session in the outdoor - by ourselves all alone up on the hill. The outdoor isn't level - the short sides have some slope - and Pie now easily goes up and down in balance at both trot and canter. We did some really nice trot and canter work - his gaits have improved enormously as he's learned to balance and use himself from behind. He was forward, and round, and the drive and lift were impressive - this was really nice considering the short-strided, hollow, shuffly gaits he came to me with.
I almost never get sore from riding, but all of a sudden my knees and the tops of my shoulders are hurting like the dickens, and I wondered why. And then I remembered - I changed my position slightly when I'm riding Red and Pie in my About the Horse Western saddle - Dawn goes in my Kieffer dressage saddle. The About the Horse saddle, unlike many Western saddles, is designed to put you in a balanced seat position. The change I made was to move my seat slightly forward, away from the cantle - this makes a subtle change in my leg position and allows me to drape my legs with less bracing in the stirrups, and it also makes my upper body posture more open and "up". It's a better position, and puts me more "in" the horse where I interfere less with the horse's movement. But my muscles and joints aren't used to the new position yet . . . and I'm getting older, just like Dawn! I'm expecting that pain to lessen a bit as my body adjusts . . . It's a good reminder that, whenever we ask our horses to use themselves differently, they may experience soreness as their bodies adapt and build different muscles - such changes have to be made slowly. Pie in fact is having a chiropractor visit this week for precisely this reason.
More riding today . . .