Ahh horses. Sometimes it feels like progress is super slow, or even non existent. Sometimes it feels like when you are learning something new the things you knew how to do really well fall apart. And then come those moments of pure greatness- usually when you are least expecting them.
That was my ride on Ben on Monday. Having had 3 days off, I went to the barn preparing myself for a "back to work" ride which usually involves inspiring the young man to actually, you know, MOVE. My ride started out that way. I actually decided to use the beginning of my ride to do a bunch of walk and stretches - circles, shoulder in's, square turns. I've pretty much abandoned the idea of doing much trot work in the beginning - just enough to get the engine turned on - seriously probably a couple of laps in both directions and then straight to canter. The trot work is SO much better after the canter.
So I followed that plan. But what I wasn't expecting was Ben's canter to feel as good as it did - to the right anyway...which is funny because the left is the one always feeling more solid. But lately it has been the right. In the canter work, I've been playing with picking up counter canter - usually on the quarter or center line. Also doing shallow canter loops down the long side. I've also been doing lots of simple changes through walk. All pretty normal for our work lately.
What isn't normal, and totally surprising is that I got such a great quality and balanced counter canter that Ben was able to hold it along the short side...which is your standard 20m. WHOA. I was in heaven! And to make matters even more interesting, at one point he did get a little confused in our canter work and by golly, I got a change. Holy crap, yes, I got a change. On my horse. On my Standardbred. Totally not asked for, totally not dressagey- but it was a change none the less. And his legs didn't get tangled. And it felt like something he could totally reproduce.
Ummm....wow. It's in there...it is almost ready to come out.
In other news, yesterday a much respected lameness vet came out to our barn and I had him look at Ben - mainly wanted his take on the hind-end soundness. In the past, Ben has flexed unsoundly in both his stifles and hocks - the stifles being worse. And we've always taken the path of seeing if strength works, along with Pentosan or Adequan. Well - yesterday he flexed totally clean on his stifles. CLEAN. I was shocked. He did come up sore on his right hock (explains the left canter, eh?), and a bit sore on the lefty too. So we made the decision to do injections - given his level of overall soundness and his increasing abilities to do more work...it seemed like the best course of action. I'll be interested to see how he goes in a few days when he can go back to light work.
I don't take direct injections lightly, or any injections lightly for that matter. But I am a firm believer of making sure of doing right by the horse - and if that means a little help here, that's what it means. This vet's opinion is that conformation (straightness of Ben's hind legs) is likely making it hard on his hocks. Given that he's in the best shape of his life, and that the work has done wonders in strengthening those weak stifles, I decided to go with the injections. My goal is to make this not a regular thing - that perhaps we get over this hump and see if continued strengthening will alleviate the need for regular joint injections. But time will tell. It worked for my mare (so far), so I'm hoping this works for him too.
So there you have a it. Lots of big surprises packaged up and released in a matter of days. It makes all the slogging through the training seem like it is worth it. Even when you cannot see or feel the progress, you are likely still making it. I have a new found excitement around Ben, as he once again has proved to me that I simply cannot count him out or lower the bar - to date there has been nothing he flat out couldn't accomplish. It may take him longer than the average horse, and perhaps a bit of creative training and exercises- but he gets there, on his own time, when he's ready.