It turns out Mick Jagger wasn’t right after all.
It’s true: you can’t always get what you want. But sometimes you don’t even get what you need. You just get what you get.
I am a self-described existentialist, so crises really aren’t that uncommon around here. My natural reaction to difficult circumstances is to revert to a state of resigned disapproval and my favorite four-letter word inevitably starts with an “F”.
It’s been another week.
Last Thursday, Nautica had the most beautiful ride of his new dressage life. Of course, it was during a private lesson in which our instructor rode him first. It was as if an actual lightbulb lit up in his head. In a matter of a forty-five-minute lesson, Nautica went from his usual inverted to heavy-leaning pattern to… perfect? Somehow, the right switch went off and Nautica began to give to light pressure, bending easily in both directions and maintaining a steady, polite contact in the bridle. He was trotting on for multiple strides of true roundness for the first time in his life. The best part was that he kept it up even after my instructor handed him back over to me to ride. It was the first time I’ve experienced a learning moment with a horse be that pronounced and obvious. Apparently, Nautica is a lot smarter than he had previously let on.
Of course, it was too good to be true.
The next day I come back to ride, excited to build on Nautica’s miraculous progress. He started out completely normal: sound on a straight line, sound on a left circle, then to the right—head-bobbing lame.
I immediately felt sick.
Nautica did this same exact pattern a year ago in April: It began with a few weeks of exceptionally beautiful rides (saddle-seat at the time) when he was struck with a sudden unilateral front end lameness, a suspected abscess, followed by weeks of no abscess surfacing. We pulled the shoe, which unfortunately was on his low heel resulting in a negative palmar angle and requiring stall rest until his next shoeing.
During that episode, after weeks of waiting, we scheduled a vet exam. A very expensive nerve block showed the pain was in his medial heel and an even more expensive x-ray showed us absolutely nothing, which was both comforting and concerning. Coffin joint injections seemed to help, though it was undetermined if the injection or simply time off was the cure. Nautica had two to three more weeks off after that appointment and returned to light work weak but sound. Cue the following months of rehab… He was finally ready to return to full work by that November, one month before switching over to his new barn and a new career.
This time it’s looking like another “textbook” abscess or quite possibly a heel bruise. His legs are clean, no swelling, tendons and ligaments look fine and the front right hoof is testing slightly touchy with vague warmth on the medial sole near the heel bulb. I’m really hoping it’s that simple. There is definitely some level of post-traumatic stress for me with this horse and freak lameness incidents. Nautica’s training history has really felt like a general “one step forward, ten steps back” scenario, but I’m in this for the long run. We are no stranger to setbacks and we will make it through another one.
I really hope I’m just being dramatic and that this all blows over in a week or two when the abscess surfaces or the stone bruise heals.
We will see.
While we’re on the topic of hooves, I thought I’d share Nautica’s current shoeing situation. Nautica now wears Grand Circuit OXTs and we have seen amazing results in correcting his high-heel, low-heel situation over the past few shoeings.
A frequent question I get from non-Saddlebred riders is about Nautica’s motion at the trot, particularly when shown in saddle-seat. When Nautica was training for “show pleasure” and equitation classes, he wore regular keg horseshoes with a plastic wedge on his left hoof to make up for his low heel. He kept a slightly longer toe than he does now, but nothing at all significant by saddlebred means. Technically, based on shoeing alone, Nautica could have shown in “country pleasure” classes, a division where heavy shoes are prohibited and natural motion is rewarded.
All of Nautica’s “show horse” motion was and is completely the result of his breeding, natural talent, and athleticism. Now, we get to try to harness all of that high-stepping motion into more flowing, ground-covering gaits. In our case, it’s all in how I ride him.