Tuesday, August 5, 2008

And Then It All Went to Hell in a Handbasket

Here's a couple pictures from Friday:


Stadium, the morning lesson on Friday where I jumped my first bending line



Trotting through the water complex on XC



Saturday's events:

I woke up to the pleasant sound of horses nickering and an espresso machine. Which, as I would find out Sunday morning, was being employed in the creation of some really, REALLY good vanilla lattes. But I digress.

About 45 minutes before my morning lesson, my mom and I went to get McKinna ready. Glancing up, I see the chestnut gelding of one of my group members absolutely freaking out as he's tied to the trailer. This gelding pulls back hard, goes up, hooks a foreleg over his leadrope, flails, and then his rider undid the quick release. The grey gelding tied to the trailer, who belongs to the third guy in my group, pulls back in the trademark TB Sympathy Panic, breaks the ring he's tied to, and both horses trot nervously into the corner of the pasture we're all parked in (only a few feet away, thankfully). By this time I was already over there.

Within seconds, we see the sight that makes any horse person's heart sink: blood starts dripping down onto the gelding's left hind leg. Fast. The grey's owner catches him and ties him now that he's settled down; the chestnut's owner catches him and tries to look at the injury. I come over to hold his head (the horse's name is Al, by the way) while his owner takes a look. Al settles down a little, and we can see that it's a nasty slice right on his stifle. It gapes open every time he takes a step, and blood is coming pretty fast. We locate some towels to hold on it, and until the vet arrives maybe 45 minutes later, Al settles down quite a bit and is holding still. I'm at his head petting him and holding him still, his owner's holding a series of blood-soaked towels to the injury.

Eventually the vet comes, sedates him, stitches it up, etc etc etc. All three of us skipped the morning lesson and let the trainer know. During lunch hour, me and the rider of the grey decided to go out for a lesson.

Our instructor takes us out to the XC field, where they've just spread a very very thin layer of fresh compost. We warm up at a trot on a nice big circle; McKinna's a little hot, but nothing major, and she's relaxing as I move her off my leg. When told to, we pick up the canter -- it's beautiful. A flawless, balanced transition (somewhat of a rarity for her!), and the first few steps are just lovely. Relaxed, an easy tempo.

And that was when everything went to hell in a handbasket.

We hadn't gone more than three strides when all of a sudden McKinna's forelegs were sliding crazily out from under her. Her nose must have only been a few inches off the ground -- all I registered was that I could see her foreleg out of the corner of my eye (I think she spread them out in opposite directions to try to regain balance), her forehand was going way down, and I was popping off over her shoulder. I landed on my right side, feet first, rolling down, saying "Please don't step on me, please don't step on me."

When we came to a halt, McKinna had managed to regain her balance. I'm laying on the ground on my right side. Her forelegs are on either side of my waist, and my whole lower body is under her body. She's standing dead still. After a brief second to breathe and realize she wasn't going to step on me, I said, "Ow."

And then a lot more ows, and I started crying, because my right ankle hurt really really bad. I couldn't use it to move myself, so the instructor carefully backed McKinna up and handed her to the other rider. I immediately took my boot and sock off, realized that there was no way I was going to be able to put weight on it, and said "I am going to be SO PISSED if this is broken."

We're maybe a half mile away from the camp (we are on a cross country course, after all!), so I get lifted up onto McKinna and ride her back, semi-hysterical the whole way. By the time I dismount and get into a chair, it's swollen to maybe the size of a baseball -- and I have small ankles.

Horse people being horse people, there are doctors and nurses and people with crutches and so on, so in a rather timely fashion I've got ice wrapped on it, which of course makes it hurt even more because it's not numb yet.


Anyway. What it came down to is, my ankle's broken. The doctor I saw that day said I couldn't put weight on it for 4 to 6 weeks; I go in to see the orthopedic surgeon tomorrow, where I will find out more specifics and they will hopefully tell me that 1. I can keep it in a boot instead of a cast and 2. it's non-surgical.

Mostly I'm just really pissed that I can't ride. I was so excited to keep working with McKinna throughout the weekend -- I had JUST gotten the feeling for how to rate her gallop. I can still feel it now, which is good, because as soon as I'm able I'm going to go out there and try it out. I was loving the stadium lessons, because she's come so far (can hold a course together, finds her own distances, understands the concept of leads) and our group was so much fun. I'd just learned to do banks and things like that, and I couldn't wait till we did more complicated stuff.

Not to mention there are several upcoming things like clinics, schooling shows, etc that I can't do now.

On the plus side, I did stick around and watch other lessons. Thanks to that I really solidified my understanding of how to set up a horse for a fence on XC, and tied in to that, how to fix my position. I tend to jump ahead of the horse, a habit I acquired when Bailey used to rush all of his fences. It makes me more likely to come off if she stops, because I'm already ahead of the motion, and she has such a shorter neck than a TB that there's nothing there to catch myself on.

We've just moved to a new barn, too. McKinna is out in the giant mare pasture, cheerfully roaming all day, and she appears to have made friends with an adorable Shire cross. I met at least three people at the camp this weekend who live literally right next to this new barn -- so I have some new riding buddies, even though I can't ride! I'm excited to start riding with them once I can, though. One of them has a big field with some XC fences in it, and one of the ladies has a really sweet packer mare that she's offered to let my mom ride.

But here's what I've decided in light of my fall and what I've learned this weekend.

I am going to establish a really, REALLY solid position once I'm back in the saddle. That means I need to ride without stirrups, a lot. I need to get my mom to longe me so I can focus on me. I need to spend a lot of time in two-point strengthening those muscles. I need to go out into a really big field and practice going back and forth between galloping and setting back for a fence. I need to stop jumping ahead.

So, that's that. Since I won't be riding, you will be treated to all kinds of blogs that I've been meaning to write (talk at leadership camp et al), as well as reflections on training methods and so on. One of the things I've decided to work on is to have McKinna come reliably when called; I'm going to enlist my mom to help me with that, so I will post an update once we try it a little. It involves me learning how to whistle loudly, so I need to acquire that skill first!

Hope your weekend went a little better than mine :) Here's me arriving back at camp in my trainer's car after going to Urgent Care.

11 comments:

ORSunshine said...

Sorry about your ankle!

I love reading this blog for a couple reasons. I love that no matter what, you find the lesson in the situation. That you never blame your horse for your shortcomings (I've seen that a lot with other people). And that you continue to persevere no matter the situation.

Can I make a suggestion? I am a dog trainer. A positive method dog trainer. I use some of my horse knowledge with dogs and vice versa. One of the easiest ways to train McKinna to come will be with positive reinforcement at first. Maybe a handful of grain for coming? Maybe associating the whistle with the shake of the grain can at first? After she comes reliably at least 100 times, treat reinforcement would start to get phased out. Only every other time for a while, then every couple times, then a random schedule, down to maybe not at all. Then you could work on phasing out the shaking of the grain in relation to the whistle (or start with it first and then reduce the rewards, but in a pattern like I described for reducing her reward for coming). And remember to call her in a lot of different conditions and places. Animals don't generalize well so we have to keep working them and exposing them to different situations and conditions.

manymisadventures said...

Thank you! It seems like every time I start blaming the horse, it's thrown in my face that it's definitely my fault -- after awhile I learned :) And as far as persevering...I figure, I'm in it for love of horses. If I can't have fun no matter what I'm doing, then what's the point?

Thanks for the advice, too. That actually sounds very similar to what I was planning! I've worked a little with clicker training both dogs and horses -- I don't know if I ever posted about it, but for awhile I was working with McKinna on targeting a bottle on a stick. It was really fun to see the gears turning in her head, especially since she's very food motivated!

My plan was to stand not too far away, close enough that she can see the treat, and whistle. Since she normally comes over to say hi anyway, it shouldn't be a problem. Then I'd gradually increase the distance. I was planning on giving her a small tidbit every time I whistled for her until she came very reliably, then either refine my criteria (must come faster, etc) or start phasing out the reward.

You've got a good point about shifting locations, I didn't really think about that. I'll be able to easily work with her in the round pen, arena, and pasture - and I'm sure with a little creativity I can practice in other areas too.

Thank you for the input, and I'll definitely keep you updated!

TheUnicorn said...

Today is the first time I've ever read your blog, but I just had to comment!

I feel your pain of not being able to ride, especially missing all the fun summer horse activities. A few summers ago, I, too, broke my right ankle (more specifically, the very ends of my tibia and fibula--just cracked right through! I was lucky I didn't need surgery!) coming off a horse! I happened to be riding a round, 14.2 pony bare-bareback (you know, w/o any pad--almost no friction to keep me on!) and he went one way and I went the other! I could feel I was starting to slip, so I sorta slid off and tried to land on my feet, but wound up rolling my ankle (note to self: tuck and roll). Even though it swelled and bruised right away, I didn't believe it was broken (it hurt, but I thought breaks were supposed to REALLY hurt ;^), so I wouldn't let anyone take me to the hospital (especially since it was a Saturday--I just assumed I'd have to wait 4 hours if I went in!) my instructor covered my foot in horse liniment, wrapped it in an ace bandage, and told me to go ice it at home.

I guess I was lucky I'd had an excellent day riding w/my friend up until (rode 5 different horses, jumped, went on a trail ride, played tag...it was heavenly.), but I still missed it...It was pretty tough that whole summer, anyway (we were also moving and I was getting ready to go to college...thank God for knitting and Metroid on Gameboy Advance ;^), but I was *SO HAPPY* when I was finally allowed to walk w/o a boot or anything! I walked all over campus and up and down every stair I could find!

I did learn a great lesson from it all, tho: don't try to herd loose horses while riding a herdbound horse (unless you're totally ready for a wild ride! 8^) I also learned that travelling economy class on a plane w/a broken leg totally sucks, even when there's an empty seat next to you! ;^p

BTW, I second orsunshine on the training thing! My instructor has us (all the students) shake a grain bucket and whistle to call the horses in off pasture in the evenings. She usually starts training them while they're in smaller paddocks, but it often helps if they're w/other horses that know the whistling/bucket-shaking call since they'll almost always come along anyway! Also, my instructor has actually gotten her personal horse so good at coming to a whistle that she was able to stop him running away w/a group of spooked horses while trail riding out in the middle of nowhere!

Well, I look forward to reading the rest of your blog soon! Take it easy (but stay busy--helps w/the sanity thing ;^p )

~Kaitlyn~ said...

Hey, I read your blog every time you update! It's so nice and refreshing to know there are other thoughtful, cool, smart, young people out there. You are a great writer, and McKinna is very lucky. I wish I could be a riding buddy with you, but I live in Arizona lol

Redsmom said...

Sorry about your ankle. On the upside, you can ride bareback until its healed. I had to ride bareback when I first got my horse and broke my foot the next morning!!

ORSunshine said...

I've never clicker trained a horse. Just dogs. Actually, when I was your age, I made fun of people who did clicker train their horses. I know better now. After all, if B.F. Skinner (famous psychologist guy) could clicker train a chicken, a horse should be easy, right?

There are a couple ways to go about "treating" McKinna. One is to use her daily grain ration. With dogs, we make them "work" for their food. However, this doesn't always work well. If you choose to use treats, just make sure it's a really high value treat. The equivalent for dogs would be, oh, boiled chicken. With Charlie, bananas. Think of the one thing McKinna loves above all else and you'll have a winner!

BTW, Charlie is up here with me now and Fat Camp will begin for him very shortly!

Misty's Mom said...

Oh my gosh, i am so so sorry! That sounds horrible.

May i too offer a suggestion? If you want a really, really good seat, ride bareback. A lot. I was forced to go saddleless for four months because my saddle didn't fit, and that really, really helped me find my seat. Hey, i might not look all that pretty doing it, but a horse is very hard put to get me off!

I hope you get better soon. =)

buckpony said...

Oh no! So sorry to hear about your ankle! Glad your horse wasn't injured, too...and I'm sure she tried her best not to step on you. :)

Hope you heal quickly without too much pain. I love your blog - for a teenager, you sure have your head on straight.

manymisadventures said...

Thanks for all the well-wishes and ideas, guys!

I will start riding bareback as soon as my ankle is totally pain free (happens before it's completely healed, but after a couple weeks) OR after I get my three-week x-rays, whichever comes first. I'll probably just walk, but it's better than nothing!

That's quite the story, Unicorn. I'd probably be falling off the horse at the end of the day just from exhaustion, not from quick turns!

ORSunshine - that's great that you have Charlie now. How's he doing? What does 'fat camp' (ha!) consist of?

And thanks, buckpony ;) I try to be an intelligent ambassador for the teenager age group. Not all of us are obnoxious and irresponsible, I promise!

mugwump said...

I think I love your horse. I am so sorry you are hurt. You have learned that your mare will watch out for you, something I'd want to know if I was in your sport.
I had my own wacko seat building methods on Sonita, giving her head on open trails in the mountains....aha! a post idea!
Looking forward to your posts.

manymisadventures said...

Yup - eventing is the kind of sport where your horse needs to be thinking for themselves, at least on XC. They can't rely on you to tell them where to put every foot. And I definitely feel a lot more secure knowing that my mare is looking out for me -- not just in a, "I hate stepping on soft squishy things so I won't step on you" way, but a "I will stop as soon as you hit the ground and wait for you" kind of way.

Looking forward to the Sonita post :) Those are some of my favorites of yours.

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