St Francis of Assisi
I think I finally have a program that works for Decadance.
Step one, heal the body.... after almost two years of struggling to understand his mysterious and sporadic muscle soreness, ataxia, and hind limb lameness, Decadance was diagnosed and treated for EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis).
Step two, heal the mind.....during his recovery phase, Decadance was turned out in a herd. I have a motley collection of rejects and retirees who roam at will through approximately ten acres of interconnected paddocks. Decadance was thrown into the mix to spend time just being a horse!
Step two, heal the spirit....now it's time to get back into work. Rather than dwelling on what he can't or won't do, I decide to focus on what he does willingly and well. All of his behavioral issues have been centered around under saddle work. Rarely does he act up, other than the typical young horse silliness and expressions of athleticism, on the lunge. He likes to play; he likes attention. I enlist the help of a good friend (and talented rider) and devise a plan.
We begin with a typical lunging session, using a series of straight lines and circles that travel the full length of the arena. Decadance is tacked up in a dressage saddle and bridle, but lunged with a simple halter and long line of yachting braid. When he is warmed up, my friend Danielle mounts. Her job is not to put pressure on him; that is my job from the ground. I control the direction, the gait, the tempo. She maintains an independent balance, and while she has the reins, she does not use them. The challenge in the past has always been to have him move forward willingly under saddle. This is different, and he is confused, not sure how to react. He moves forward cautiously, keeping one eye on me, and one ear tipped back to Danielle. She strokes his neck. He relaxes.
After three sessions, Decadance is not only trotting, but cantering forward and in balance with a rider. He works in the ring only once a week. We have found it takes him a full seven days to recover, to build muscle. It's a test of restraint....I want to work him more, but know it will only set us back. Each week, we begin where we left off the previous session, with significant gains in strength and suppleness. Where there had been reluctance, we now find enthusiasm.
The plan for the upcoming weeks is to slowly shift the balance of power. More direction will come from the rider, less from the ground. When it is time, we will remove the line.
Yes, we are essentially starting over. Sometimes, when you are really and truly lost, it's helpful to find your way back to the beginning. Start your journey again. A change in perspective and newly acquired knowledge may take you to a different destination.