It was really interesting to watch the massage therapist with Echo last weekend. I made a decision at the time, that even if the massage didn't have any obvious physical effects afterward, I would try to get her to treat Echo occasionally anyway, as she seemed to enjoy it so much! She started off by her poll and loosened up her whole neck, then worked over her shoulders and down towards her quarters. She did lots of stretching, encouraging Echo to stretch the muscles herself once the leg was put in a certain place. I have never seen her look so relaxed. The last thing she did was some massage of the tail and as she moved it gently from side to side, her whole body wiggled right through to her nose. She can sometimes drag me a bit on the way to the field, but when I led her out afterwards, she looked half asleep, bottom lip hanging and strolled along at my side!
In terms of the physical problems, she had a look at her on the lunge and agreed that something odd is going on with her right hind leg. She couldn't find anything terribly wrong, but did say that she's a little stiffer on the right. She got me a little scared, as her horse has recently been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at 5 years old, and suggested that I have her x-rayed if I can't find anything. Also, when she relaxed and started chewing, Claire noticed that her teeth were grinding a little and suggested that I get them seen to.
She then had a couple of days off, and Claire told me just to hack her the first day I rode her, so on Wednesday I arranged to go out for a gentle hack with a friend. It was very windy and quite late in the day and when I got on she tensed up and her back contracted. When I asked her to move forwards, she hopped with her back legs and seemed really uncomfortable. Getting very concerned, I jumped off and took her in the school to lunge her for a little while. She was very fired up, which didn't help, but she did look quite free. I think she must have just been a bit stiff after the massage and the days off. When I got on, she was fine, but still couldn't bend at all to the right - she just wouldn't take the contact in the left rein at all. I would be using my right leg and trying to push her into my left hand, but as soon as I touched the left rein, she would turn her head to the left and run forwards. I was getting really frustrated again, so I gave up and did some trotting over poles to take both of our minds off it!
I had the vet to rasp her teeth on Friday, which helped with the left contact issue, and then had a lesson with John today. As usual, it was pretty enlightening. I was glad, actually, that he saw her at her worst, as he was able to give me some useful advice. She was awkward in her head and wouldn't bend today. He had a look at her and felt down her quarters carefully. He said that she is very loose in her stifles, but particularly loose in the right stifle, meaning that she is finding the engaging work quite hard. He said that this partly her age, but that I have got to get her fitter, using lots of hill-work to really build up the ligaments around the stifle. He also said that you can get medication to strengthen the ligaments, but that this would require a very specialist vet, probably at Newmarket, and therefore we should see how we get on with the fittening work. I also asked him whether it would help her to do some jumping and he thought it probably would - anything that will get her to really bend her hind legs - even raised trotting poles.
After this, he got me to go back on to the right rein and noticed immediately the problem I was having with the left rein contact. He said that I'm putting my inside leg on and holding her with the outside rein, but as soon as she tries to bend to the left, I try to sort it out and take my inside leg off as she is rushing through it. He said that I am giving her really mixed messages and have got to be a lot firmer with her. He asked me to ride her on a really small circle around him and really pull her head to the right, whilst keeping a good contact on the left. The small circle stopped her rushing and also forced her to bend more effectively. At one stage, he got hold of her reins and walked around holding onto her bit, asking her to soften to the right. She did eventually do it, although she was trying to do everything she could in order to get out of it. We were only walking and all I wanted her to do was to bend herself to the right. He pointed out that this is not difficult for her, but she has worked out how to not have to do it. The leg-yielding was the worst, as when I put my right leg on she rushed away from it and I was having to rely entirely on the right rein - which is completely the wrong thing to do!
It is so frustrating when you know that the problem is you as a rider, but it's so hard to fix! I am going to do some really short schooling sessions, to try to get around this problem. John has lots of funny sayings and today they were useful. He said, "Rome wasn't built in a day, but parts of it were." He emphasised that I have to get what I want, but I must have small, achievable targets, rather than just wanting her to 'go well'. We will also do lots of hacking and maybe even a little jumping, to try to get her back legs stronger and keep her interested. I received lot of very helpful comments on my last post, most of them mentioning her age and that perhaps I am overdoing it with her. It's really difficult to judge, as she has been broken in for 10 months now, although she has had periods of that off for various reasons. She is very clever and learns quickly; I have got to keep her interested, but not over-tax her. It is a difficult line to draw.
I will continue to work hard in the school, but will make sure that I just have a couple of goals, maybe even just one, that I focus on and achieve. I will then try to build up the hacking and loose-jump her a couple more times, before attempting our first jump with rider (!!!).