Such is the nature of horses. They give meaning to the beating of your heart and then, just as quickly, break it.
Today was a very up and down day for Team Brego. I've been watching the eventing dressage coverage of the Olympics online and getting jazzed about my Dressagapalooza weekend: two lessons with two higher lever horses. I really miss my dressage trainer in Texas and I was looking forward to getting back into the cerebral training that comes with thoughtful dressage.
But first, out to ride my boy and gather my things for the lesson. I started early and headed out to the barn. Brego got Friday off due to such heavy rains that a local recognized event was cancelled due to flooding. The weather only looks slightly better for next weekend, my recognized show... but I am getting ahead of myself.
Brego was off yesterday, and after our pleasant ride Thursday where he was feeling quite strong, I expected a refreshed and eager face to greet me in the field. Brego was certainly in a good mood, but his right hind leg was swollen from fetlock to hock, much worse than I have ever seen it. Quelling panic, I brought him out. He walked fine on it. Palpated negative. I was expecting the small puffiness to have retreated, not take over his entire leg!! Did he slip in the mud from the torrential rains? Brego is on full turnout and although the field is well drained, it does get muddy when the rain is falling, before it has time to drain away. Did he get kicked?
He jogged fine, so I decided to see what a little light work did to the swelling. I tacked him up dressage and we did some walking and trotting. After 15 minutes, his leg was mostly normal, although the puffiness that we have been battling was still there at the base of his tendon. He felt completely fine, even, solid. My grounds person and riding buddy said he was tracking even, pushing even, looked just like normal Brego at the beginning of a ride. I dismounted and checked his leg again and it was noticeably improved, so I decided to give him a full ride.
He did great. We are not about to set any records, but he was moving very well for the light level of work he has been in for the last two weeks. I decided I was going to go to my dressage lesson and come back and check his leg again. I gave him 1 gram of bute to see if the residual swelling disappeared during the couple of hours I would be gone.
So off to my lesson. Now, I should preface this tale with the comment that when I researched barns, I made it very clear what my level was and that I wanted a higher level horse, who executed movements properly, to learn aids on. I was not an "up-downer" trying to navigate Intro B. I have a perfectly nice Training level horse who schools first and second, I needed a confirmed second level horse. The owner of the barn where I was to take me dressage lesson understood and said she had a Oldenburg cross who was doing 3rd level movements. I also disclosed my weight and height so she would not choose a pony for me. We agreed on a time and we were set.
So I arrive for my lesson and my instructor is, oh, about 17. Not a big deal, lots of younger folk know more about horses than I do (*cough* Beckz *cough*). She was teaching a small child how to "jump" cross rails on a horse so obviously uncomfortable that he could not use his back at all. Again, fine, this was a lesson program, things are not always ideal.
I waited for her to complete the lesson and the she had me sign a waiver, etc, and talked to me as if I was a complete horse novice. "First we're going to get your horse from the field. Then we're going to groom it." Fine again, this was obviously not the owner and maybe didn't get the memo that I OWN a horse for whom I do most care.
Then we go and get the horse. The Oldenburg Cross doing 3rd level, remember? This horse was a wreck. He showed every rib, and his hips protruded. He was ancient looking. He walked so slowly, even I was surprised (for those who don't know, Brego is the slowest walker on earth). Ok, fine, some dressage horses are misleading at first glance.
Then I started grooming him. Using a simple curry comb and body brush, I brushed the caked on mud off his back. The horse almost buckled to his knees. The instructor was standing right next to me and I looked at her to see if she saw it. She stared blankly at the horse. I did it again, this time brushing to his hip and again he violently flinched. I turned to her.
"Yea, he's a bit back sore. We'll pad him up. Go ahead and brush him."
I turned back to the horse and tried again. He buckled again.
"Are you sure? He seems pretty bad."
"Yea, he had a big jumping day yesterday. We'll give him some bute."
I turned back to the horse, and more gently brushed his sides, barely touching his hair. Then I saw a big sore. A girth gall, angry and red.
"He's got a..."
"Girth gall, yes. We have a sheepskin for him but one of the girls keeps taking it off."
I walked around to the other side. He had a girth gall there too.
I stood back and really looked at the horse. He was skinny. He had no topline. And he was in pain. How on earth does this poor horse do 3rd level movements????
At this point, I asked if I could just come back later. I was not going to ride the horse. Of course, I have no intention of ever going back. And the sight of that poor guy made me sick.
The instructor was very nice and said sure, no problem, we could arrange a time when he was feeling better. Or I could ride another horse, but this one knew the most so I might not enjoy a greener horse. I kindly declined and got the hell out of there.
Seriously. There are no words. I know it's a lesson barn, but that horse could never do dressage. As she led him away, he could not even track up. He was in so much pain he could not extend his left hind leg. Tough jumping lesson the day before, eh? Just gross.
I headed back to my barn to love on my horse and tell him how much I love him. His leg was still only slightly puffy, so I hydroed it and jogged him for my trainer. Totally sound, and yet the puffiness remained. There's no question he has strained his leg at some point. I also found a small cut on his fetlock which was infected and with all the mud had caused the rest of the swelling up to his hock this morning. I cleaned it thoroughly and hopefully the infection will not return. I left Brego today with a third round of hydro, and a poltice. He was in an unusually good mood, loving the attention and cookies and THREE visits from mom!
And now comes decision time. I am past the point of getting any refund on my entry fees for the big show next weekend, whether I scratch now or next Friday. There's a better than even chance that the event itself will be cancelled due to rain. The weather here is unbelievable. But even if not, the footing may not be great and there is no way I am going to take Brego out in bad footing again even if he is sound on that leg.
So the current plan is to see how it goes this week with normal work, including a cross country schooling tomorrow. If he stays sound and happy, I will entertain the thought of showing. If it rains too much, no way. If the swelling goes back up, no way. If I haul all the way there and it's muddy, no way.
So it's looking like big show which I have been working for for 16 months may just have to wait awhile. Which is heart breaking. But! My horse is sound and will NEVER end up like that poor lesson horse today, sore and drugged and sad. And that is what eventing is all about. Learning that fact is the most important lesson of all.