My life the past week and a half has felt like a roller coaster.
Up. Down. Up. Down. And the sensation that I'm gonna throw up.
I got back from the horse show to some very sad family news. The sad/angry/helpless/frustrating kind.
But what really consumed me emotionally is concern over Hemie's lameness issue. Or unevenness issue. Whatever we want to call it.
At the show both Laurie and I thought it was a behavioral/tension issue. But...what if it really is a physical/lameness thing? I've spent hours upon hours brainstorming options. And worrying. Lots of worrying.
I longed him with hawk eyes to see if I could spot any off-ness. Nada.
Then I stepped it up a notch by adding a surcingle and all manner of equipment. Still nothing.
The next day I rode. To the left we were 100% fine, but to the right we felt unbalanced. Not all the time, but enough of the time.
Laurie was concerned too. At our lesson last week, she started off by feeling his back and doing in-hand exercises to see if she could spot any issues. Nothin'. So I hopped on. She took video, of us going both ways, with Hemie as sound as sound can be, walk-trot-canter.
We were both feeling relieved.
But then he gave a little half-buck, and then another. Then we changed directions, and he gave some more! Tension was mounting, and I froze up. Whenever he gave the little buck-hop, I just brought him to a halt and walked him. I could feel it coming like dogs can feel an earthquake - the "big one" was just around the corner and I knew I was going to get bucked off.
Laurie shouted at me to do something. Kick him. Hit him. Growl at him. Slap with the reins. ANYTHING to tell him that the behavior is not okay. I was rewarding him every time he even hinted at bucking.
My horrible frozen riding continued for what felt like forever. Until finally a tiny sliver of courage came up and I growled at him when he tried it, with success. He stopped trying it and we had a few minutes of solid trot work before calling it a day.
We took the tack off and felt up his back some more. Nothing.
We decided to bute him that night and the next morning as an experiment and see if anything changed the next day.
Driving home that night I was able to put a word to the feeling.
For the first time in a long, long time, I was scared.
Terrified to ride my own horse. To just trot around! What a horrible, horrible feeling.
I called my barn mate TK (prelim rider, giant balls of badassness) in tears, told her how I was making a bucker out of my horse, and how at first I was afraid that he had something physically wrong with him rather than behavioral, but now I'm afraid that its NOT something physical! I asked if she would be available to ride for part of my lesson the next morning. She graciously agreed.
Meanwhile I started psyching myself up - after all, I have a helmet, a safety vest, and an air vest. What was I so afraid of - falling off? I've fallen off before and I'll fall off again.
The next morning I put on my big girl panties. And all my safety gear too.
Laurie arrived before I saddled up to check out his back some more. We started him off in-hand/longe and did some exercises with poles designed to really bring out any issues with the hind end. He passed with flying colors. TK was running late, so I hopped on.
Everything was fine for several minutes, but then a tiny hint of a buck showed up. After some time going to the right the unevenness showed up at the trot, especially in corners when asking for bend. It felt to me like he was trying to canter with his hind legs rather than trot. He let out a small buck and picked up the canter. I brought him back to a trot. He'd be fine for a spell, then get uneven and buck up into a canter again. He did this a few times. So TK got on.
And she had much, much less issues that I did. He got a little quick and a little uneven once or twice, but she was able to push him forward into a steady rhythm and steady contact and stopped trying to force inside bend and the issue went completely away.
I got back on, and the issues were back. Once I got him nice and froward and in my hand, we were fine. But getting there was an issue - I felt like I was bumbling around up there!
I'm still mentally processing that lesson. We're gonna try to do a horse swap sometime - the idea being that a better trained horse can help me to feel what a better, steadier contact feels like.
But I'm no longer afraid. I rode Hemie twice afterwards - once on trail, once just hacking around.
Plus this weekend I audited the Dr. Christian Schacht clinic and he had some words of wisdom for me. More on that later.
Now my gut says that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I may not see it yet, but its there.