Self-doubt Leads To…

By Terry Golson

In my last blog, I wrote about how I felt that something wasn’t quite right with Tonka. He wasn’t lame. He was still letting me on (when he’s really hurting, he doesn’t), and he was game to do what was asked. But something was amiss. Was it how I was riding? Was it what I was asking of him? Read the last post to hear the whole litany of second-guessing, self-doubt and worry.

I wallow in those thoughts for only so long. They’re productive only when I use them to construct a way out of the hole by logically thinking through what’s upsetting so that I can do something to improve the situation.

The first thing was to bring in some expert opinions. I had my veterinarian out. I had two trainers, with very good eyes, watch Tonka work, and give me lessons.

Everyone agreed that he’s not lame. (In fact, there’s no back soreness, his legs are clean and his stifles x-ray fine.) And yet…

I have a new veterinarian, Monika. She asked about Tonka’s neck. Which reminded me that before Tonka’s SI issues happened, my horse had neck pain, which could, on x-rays, be traced to three compromised vertebrae.  Maybe it’s not his back, butt and stifles that hurt. Maybe it’s his neck – the horse’s balancer! The puzzle seemed to come together. The first level test 3 that I’ve been working on has 10 meter circles at the trot. These require a rather condensed neck carriage. Was Tonka going carefully behind to take the strain off of the neck? I’m very tuned into my horse. Have I been unwittingly riding him in a way that kept him physically more comfortable?

The vet appointment with Monika was on Monday. On Tuesday I rode Tonka in the sort of long-over-the top line frame that I do for the stretch trot circles in the dressage test. On Wednesday we rode out in Kim’s fields, and I asked for the same sort of carriage. On Thursday we were back in the arena. Tonka felt super. I didn’t get greedy and ask for fancier work. I stuck with the plan. Yesterday, I had a poles lesson with Stephanie. She thought he looked great. Here’s a snippet. Watch that swinging tail – horses carry their tails tightly when they’re hurting. Or they swish them in pain. Tonka’s relaxed tail is a good sign.


All isn’t perfect. Tonka gave me a buck during a transition from trot to canter. He wasn’t balanced, and let me know. Whether that’s an issue that can be resolved with strengthening exercises like these poles has yet to be seen.

This type of under-saddle work is good, but I’ll also make use of veterinary medicine. Monika happened to be at the barn when I had this lesson with Stephanie. She watched Tonka go. She agreed that he looked super going in this stretch frame, and that Tonka’s compromised vertebrae might be the starting point for what we’ve been seeing.  She’ll be injecting Tonka’s neck soon to help that suspension bridge structure better do its job.

In the meanwhile, I’m staying out of the show ring so I don’t feel time-pressured to increase the challenges that I present to Tonka. We’ll be going like you see in the video. Slowly muscling up behind. Slowly regaining Tonka’s trust that he can do what I ask of him without discomfort.

Today, if the biting flies don’t drive us back indoors, we’ll be out in the field near the barn. It’s on a slight slope, which is exactly what Tonka needs to build strength in his hindquarters. It also keeps these exercises from being boring. The field has distractions (things moving in the woods, ponies in paddocks) – so although we’ll be be doing the same sort of patterns that we do in the ring, it will seem different.

I think that we’re on the right track. Time will tell. But in the meanwhile, we’ll have fun on the journey.

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