The challenge with bringing Grimm back is that his problems are two-fold. First, is the primary diagnosis of inflammation throughout his right front foot, and specifically around the deep digital flexor tendon, navicular bone, and navicular bursa. Second is his back. As a result of his conformation, he has overriding dorsal spinous processes (ORDSP), also known as "kissing spines" syndrome, and either because of that, or as a complication to that, depending on which came first, he has an old track injury that has caused arthritic changes in his lower back and sacroiliac joint, particularly on the right. Standing for the better part of the year has undone all of the strengthening and correct muscling we spend years developing, and incorrect work will cause his back issues to compound.
Usually, for his back, he works on the longe line before riding. With his current injury, longeing is not an option, and riding is the best way to rehabilitate. Quandary. Following is the plan that Grimm's team has devised for his specific needs.
May 27, 2016 -- Walking in hand, one lap of trot in each direction.
Grimm was very, very tense, but clearly excited to be working. Relaxation is important to keep his back working correctly however, so my main goal was to get him CALM, then submissive, then obedient. From there, we could work on connection, straightness, and collection. The side reins were imperative; that structure, his schooling, and the fact that I know him so well were the only things that kept him on the ground. He was behind the bridle throughout our work, and when I asked him to trot, he was far too flamboyant. He tried to offer extended trot, to pick up where we left off with his training a year ago, and he was frustrated when I told him "no". He showed a great deal of aggression, probably a combination of a reaction to the pain his tension was causing in his back and irritation that I wouldn't let him spend his energy the way he wanted. I used reinback (calm, quiet, matter-of-fact -- NOT a punishment) to correct disobedience and refocus his mind. As soon as he's submissive in the reinback, we just go quietly back to work. It's a trick we used early in his training on the longe line, and after the first few times I used it today, he started putting himself in 'time out' and backing himself after he struck or tried to come off the ground. He knows the right behavior, it's just so hard for him after so long! It was a hard session, and in the end, after about twenty minutes, I settled for obedience (I never got true submission, though) in the walk, and staying near the ground as we did trot-walk-trot-walk-trot around the arena one lap in each direction.
May 28, 2016 -- Walking in hand, one trot lap in each direction
Today I was able to address the bridle to some extent, and I started using flexion, bend, and shoulder-for position to help Grimm remember what submission feels like. He was very tense in the bridle, chewing at the bit, arching his neck to come behind the bridle. I tried taking the sidereins off, but that allowed him too much freedom and he spent too much time leaping around. And, he bit me! He's struggling with stress, energy, anxiety, and frustration -- biting is still not allowed, obviously. Neither is kicking the rail, bucking, striking, rearing .... I opted for the wrong work for his back without the antics that could further damage his foot and put the sidereins back on. I also noticed him taking "ouchy" steps on his right foot every now and then, like something is twinging, or he's stepping on a rock. Concerning. We did trot one lap to the left without much ado, and the lap to the right was considerable less disobedient. Both laps were far from quiet, however.
May 29, 2016 -- Walking in hand, one trot lap each direction
Thank goodness Grimm was calmer today. Every muscle from my hips to my jaw is seizing; I've had almost a year off, too -- and keeping my hands up where they need to be while simultaneously keeping him on the ground and in position was more than my body was ready for. I left off the tack and just did a traditional hand-walk. He trotted politely by my side both ways. He took more odd steps today, and I came to a decision that I need to move him to another facility ASAP -- someplace that has better accommodations for his needs. (There are other reasons I won't mention here, but suffice to say moving has become a priority.)
May 30, 2016 -- Day off
We moved barns today. A lucky find on Craigslist yesterday has allowed me to move sooner than I could have hoped. The new stable has a sand arena, dry paddocks, and a staff that really understands Grimm's needs. I didn't work him today; moving was enough stress on mind and body -- both his and mine.
May 31, 2016 -- Walking in hand, one trot lap in the bigger arena in each direction
Essentially, we are starting over again. Dika, my other horse, is insanely herdbound, and with the move, she escalated the energy in the barn to epic proportions as I was tacking Grimm up. Even with doubling his dose of the calming supplements, he was a wreck. Additionally, this facility has acres and acres of pastures with dozens of horses spread across the property. Grimm, in trying to assume his self-assigned stallion-of-the-herd role, was so busy trying to take role call that I had a very hard time getting his mind on his work. I ended up using one hand on the reins and one on his neck to remind him to keep his head down, and neck flexed correctly. My hand called attention to that part that he wasn't paying attention to. When his mane jumped under my hand to soften into correct flexion, his whole demeanor changed. Granted the change was momentary, and I had to keep repeating it, but it was an interesting revelation. I haven't had a chance to feel it just like that before, and we both benefited. In doing this, I had to take the reins down, and I'm able to work in a position that's more comfortable for me. The fact that I can do this now tells me that he's responding more appropriately to the bridle (thank goodness), whereas before, I needed the outside rein at his withers to maintain control. So there is some progress, as faint as it may seem. The trot work was perfunctory and included many behavior corrections. He didn't take any of the odd steps he was taking in the gravel arena at the other place.
June 1, 2016 -- Day off
Both horses are struggling with the new routine at the new facility, and my body is responding very poorly to the new work. Emotionally and physically, I didn't have the wherewithal to work Grimm correctly, and Grimm is just too unsettled today to work safely without me at 100%. I groomed him and left him in his stall. He's not eating much hay, only most of one flake of orchard grass morning and evening. They would give him more, but he's not cleaning up. He is eating his concentrates, however: a quart of Strategy and a quart of Renew Gold (plus the calming supplement, and a supplement for horses recovering from founder) twice a day. Normally, I'd think twice about giving a hot horse doing so little work that much concentrated feed, but neither he nor Dika were keeping weight at the other place, and they are both being fed for weight gain. I'll be keeping a close watch on their condition and will increase concentrates as needed if they continue not to eat their hay.
June 2, 2016 -- Walking in hand, one trot lap each direction
Much better today. I came up with solution for Dika's behavior, which significantly improved Grimm's state of mind going into the work. I used my hand on his neck again today, and frequently, the physical reminder was all he needed to calm down and use himself more correctly. I also took off the sidereins. They were causing more frustration for him than they were helping. With them off, he chewed the bit less and even stretched toward the bit a few times. The trot work is still a struggle, but not as death-defying for me as it has been. He's still tense in the trot work, but he is choosing obedience more often than not, even though he is stressed and anxious with only rare glimpses of relaxation. I think progress is finally being made. Not enough though. After his work today, I gave Grimm a shot of his progesterone to try and take the edge off.
June 3 through 5, 2016 -- Walking in hand, one trot lap in each direction
The progesterone injection helped enormously. He came to my hand and offered relaxation to varying degrees through most of the work today. I'm finally starting to see bouts of submission, too. Worked on many, many calm walk to trot transitions with occasional glimpses of success. He wants badly to trot -- or better yet to take off and play. I am reminded of advice from Pierre Cousyn: "Whatever the horse is wanting to do, you do the opposite." If Grimm trotted wrong, we simply went back to the walk. Then we did walk, halt, walk, halt in shoulder-fore with softness in the bridle until he was calm, quiet, and submissive before I asked for another trot transition. If he was calm, quiet and submissive, he was allowed to trot. If not, then back to the walk and repeat ad nauseum. One thing I realized I was doing (which I also do when I ride) is that I was giving too much with both reins right before the transition -- throwing him away. After catching myself in this error, I was able to get more correct transitions, but in the trot work, occasionally, he seemed almost lame. Since I'm working so hard to keep him together, I can't step back to see what he's doing. I THINK it's rein lameness from his tension, and the occasional canter stride he's taking instead of trotting calmly. It's different from the odd steps he was taking before -- definitely a head-bobbing in time with the trot, and only at times. I am finding that I have reached the limits of what I can accomplish in hand. He's at the point where we should be able to work in contact, but I can't get the feel I want from the ground. Also, I think I'd have more control from up top -- both when he's outright fractious and with the finer points of communication. It's time to start getting on.