Back To Work

By Terry Golson


Quick recap: In January Tonka, who is usually a totally willing horse and happy to take contact with the reins,  started twitching his head when asked to arch his neck under saddle. His teeth were checked. A new bridle, that wouldn’t pinch his ears, was purchased. The behavior worsened. A soft swelling appeared behind his poll. Over the next few weeks his neck muscles got ropey. His back seized up and instead of carrying himself with swinging strides, he put his nose in the air and refused to trot. Like this:

 

The veterinarian came out, several times. We tried muscle relaxers, but the symptoms didn’t go away. X-rays were taken. Somehow, sometime during the winter, Tonka must have injured his neck, as there were two places along his vertebrae that showed damage. I took him to Tufts Veterinary Clinic for more diagnostics and treatment. A potent cocktail of drugs that improve joint mobility was injected into his neck. He was given a week to rest, and then I was told that I could bring him back into work. The rule of thumb when bringing a horse back into shape is to give it two days for every day off. That means that I have until mid-July before Tonka is fully back into form.

Tonka says, Let’s get to it!

When he wasn’t feeling well, this is how he greeted me. Pleasant, but not in any hurry to move off of his hill.

 

Now, when he sees me he hollers a hello and comes trotting to the gate.

 

For the first two weeks we stayed mostly on the trails. Stepping over uneven ground and up and down hills is just what he needs to rebuild his back muscles. Tonka also needs to relearn that it doesn’t hurt to use his neck. I’m letting him stretch out and figure out how to carry himself so that it feels good. Sometimes I don’t use the reins at all.

Instead of balking at going forward, Tonka is now moving easily off of my leg. (For my non-horsey readers, this means that when I squeeze a tad with my calves, he goes faster.) We were ready to get back into the ring.

Tonka is still stiff through his left shoulder, and hesitates to turn his head to the left. We start with big, easy circles on a long rein. When I pick up contact, I let him tell me what’s comfortable.

 

I can tell by how he’s moving when he needs to stretch his neck down and loosen up. After a few strides of that, I can take up more contact and we feel like we used to.

 

I end the ring work on a good moment, before Tonka has had enough, and back we go onto the trails.

 

Tonka is feeling better, and he’s 100% on board with this rehab work. He says, I’m ready!

Me, too, Tonka.


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