Sunday, January 3, 2010

Quitting While You're Behind

Well. Today kind of sucked.

Let me explain.

We got out to the barn at about 11:30 to load up for the clinic and the weather was perfect. Nice and sunny, actually warm. We brought the girls in from the pasture, loaded my tack into the trailer, and cleaned some mud off of Pandora. She was a little "up," but nothing major, and I tend to get stressed out before clinics anyway, which she picks up on very quickly.

Stuck her in the trailer in our usual configuration: front divider closed, then we tied her in the second spot and left the second divider open. She doesn't fit very well in the dividers, so this is how we usually trailer her - it's like using the last space in a multiple-horse slant, except with a little more space behind her. I clipped her to the quick-release trailer tie and took her lead rope to the tack room as always so it didn't get stepped on.

When we arrived at the clinic site, I opened the back door and went to unclip her and unload. Then I realized I'd forgotten to grab the lead rope, so I stood with a hand on her haunches and asked my dad to bring the lead rope. It took him a minute to find it.

As he walked around the corner to hand it to me, Pandora decided it was time to back out. She ignored me pushing on her haunches and telling her to stop, hit the end of the trailer tie, and promptly freaked out. She pushed me up against the trailer wall in her flailing, but luckily she didn't squish me or step on me. After a few seconds - it felt like longer - the leather breakaway strap on her halter did exactly what it was supposed to and broke, and she went flying backwards out of the trailer. (Thankfully she did not flip over.)

After shooting out backwards, she trotted off, obviously very upset. My dad and I caught her without too much difficulty and re-haltered her with the spare halter we keep in the tack room of the trailer. It's not leather breakaway, but it has a plastic tab attached by velcro that unhooks under pressure. I checked her legs out and everything was fine. She did have a cut on her poll but it looked pretty shallow. I got a wet washcloth and swabbed at it as much as she would let me, which wasn't very much.

I pushed it too much and she pulled back, undoing the velcro tab which doesn't have nearly as much hold as a leather strap. For the second time in about as many minutes, we had to go catch her. I brought her back, clipped the halter to the non-breakaway part, and just looped her lead rope through the tie ring instead of tying it. For one last attempt, I asked my dad to hold the end as I wiped at her poll, but (wisely, it turns out) told him he should go grab a glove.

Well. I'm sure you can see where this is going.

By this point, Pandora was really objecting to me wiping, but I really wanted to get it clean. This time she pulled really hard, pulled the lead rope through my dad's gloved hand, got away AGAIN, and was caught again. At this point I just held her lead rope and tried to get her to relax while I rubbed the washcloth high on her neck.

She settled down a little bit and I just let it go. I'd gotten the cut pretty clean, it looked shallow and wasn't bleeding much, and I obviously wasn't going to get very far by fighting with her.

So now we brought her back to the trailer, hung on to the lead rope looped through the tie ring, and just let her eat from her hay bag. As long as we weren't trying to mess with her poll, she was fine. I decided to try tacking her up - provided I could bridle her - and see how she felt under saddle. If she felt off at all, we'd call it a day and just go home.

While brushing and hoof-picking and saddling, she was fine. We decided to take her into the cross ties in the barn to bridle her, since hopefully that would put her in a calm, working frame of mind. She was calm in the cross ties but was NOT interested in being bridled, even when I undid it and tried to put it on that way.

The clinician, Betsy, who I've ridden with several times before, came out to see what was going on. After hearing the story and taking a look at Pandora, she turned to me and said, "Well...probably best to quit while you're behind."

I agreed. Pandora never has any bridling issues, so if she's sore enough to protest that vehemently, she's obviously sore enough that it's stupid to try to ride. I was disappointed, because Betsy doesn't come over to the Valley more than a few times a year, and it would have been a perfect reintroduction to jumping. But horses are horses, and sometimes things happen.

We put Pandora in a stall with her hay to chill for a couple hours while I watched the clinic. My parents made a quick trip back to our barn to bring back some bute, which from now on will be kept in the trailer. We only have the powdered stuff but when dumped in a clean syringe with some applesauce it goes down pretty easily!

At the end of the day she loaded back up fairly promptly, though she was a little nervous. (We shut the divider this time. A tight fit is better than another episode.) We couldn't get her blanket back on since it was a closed-front, but when we got back to the home barn we put on her other blanket, which unbuckles at the chest. Unloading was also nervous but went off without a hitch.

In all, she seemed to be doing well. Her cut bled a little but not much, she walked and jogged out fine on the road, and I didn't find much if any swelling anywhere. She was bright-eyed and cheerfully dove into her dinner, nickering for her grain as usual. I could touch her pretty much anywhere but her poll and the area just behind her ears. Haltering is a little sketchy - you have to flip the strap over her neck very far back, then slide it forward gently to buckle - but possible.

Tomorrow morning I'm heading out at 9 to administer some more bute and turn the girls out. I'd rather that I'm the only one who handles her tomorrow, since she's pretty headshy and haltering needs to be delicate. I'm betting that by Tuesday she'll be much improved.

I'm not too worried about her remaining headshy. She's a smart, calm horse, and as soon as she's not hurting I'll do any work I need to, but I don't think she'll have any issues.

Needless to say, there are about a million ways I could have prevented the accident today. I don't see much point in listing them all here, because trust me, I've been thinking about them all day.

The fact is that I fell into something I think we all tend to do: I got complacent. We had a routine. Everything went smoothly every time. Pandora was well-behaved and pretty calm about trailering - so I got lax. No matter what, there is no way I should have left that door open with her still clipped to the trailer tie.

With Bailey, that was never an issue because he was so bad at trailering! Every time I loaded him up to go somewhere it was a carefully orchestrated operation, designed to be as safe and efficient as possible, simply because the risks were so high with a horse who wasn't a big fan of riding in a trailer. With McKinna and Pandora, it's easy to let standards slide precisely because most of the time we don't need strict protocol.

Key word being 'most.'

Anyway, things could have been a lot worse, and I'm glad they weren't. I feel awful that I wasn't more careful, but I'm glad I got the reminder. From now on I'm returning to full trailer vigilance. I sketched out a design for a fairly simple device to extend the space the divider allows so we can close the divider when we trailer Pandora, and I'll be very careful to keep the door and divider closed until she's safely unclipped from the trailer tie.

Hopefully in a couple days with some rest and bute Pandora will be back to normal.


Andrea said...

That is EXACLY what happened to me a little over 2 years ago when Gogo and I went to a show after I finally thought I had her brains back. Well, turns out I was wrong! Same as you, I got complacent - I had been trailering her EVERYWHERE all summer long by myself, and what I had always done was drop the butt bar, go unclip her, and then back her out, because she refused to back out on her own. (She now backs out when you tug on her tail, thankfully.) So my poor parents were at this show, right? It's their anniversary and they've driven like 6 hours to come with me. When I go to unload my horse, what's the first thing that happens? Wham bam! I drop the butt bar, she decides to back out, hit the halter, FREAKS, breaks the halter, goes shooting backwards out of the trailer, sits down at the bottom of the ramp, and rolls over. RIGHT in front of my parents. Lesson learned - untie the horse first, ALWAYS. (Gogo did not help matters when, less than an hour later, when I got on to school her while my parents went to check in to the hotel, freaked and fell over onto my head, giving me a wicked bad concussion. I couldn't even tell the show officials where my parents were because I kept saying, "they're in Michigan!" Long story short, my parents spent their anniversary sitting with me in a hospital while I went in for tests and scans for like.... 8 hours.)

Heather said...

Yup, stuff happens. I'm sorry you had to go through that and miss the clinic too. On a positive note, I think you are right about her getting over the headshy-ness once she isn't in pain. Boomer recently busted his lip pulling back at a hitching post and was nearly impossible to bridle for almost two weeks, but once all of the scabbing was gone and his lips were totally healed, he went right back to being completely normal about bridling, even though we had had a few epic fights over it in the previous week.
In all, you are lucky it wasn't worse, she will be fine, and you learned an important lesson. Chin up!

Sam said...

I hate it when things like that happen. I can understand the "quitting while you're behind" mentality though. I'm sorry you missed your favorite clinician, and I'm glad Pandora's okay :)

We once got back from a show very, very late after about 14 hours of consecutive driving. We were all a little loopy and stir-crazy from sitting in a car for that long, and we forgot to undo the ties before we asked the horses to back out.

Val was the first to try, and my saint of a horse stood there patiently while I tugged and tugged on his tail and he refused to come out. I could just imagine his expression and thoughts: "Stupid girl, you must untie me first! I can't get out now!"

I went to my trainer saying, "He won't back out!" and when she asked if I'd untied him and I said no... I immediately felt sick to my stomach. He'd been wearing a nylon halter (we've got a leather one now) so I don't know how long it would've taken to break off or if it even would have if he'd tried to back out anyhow and gotten stuck. I'm just so grateful my horse was smarter than me at that moment.

Something like that happening definitely makes a mark on your memory, though. I haven't forgotten since.

eventer79 said...

Whew, glad you and pony weren't hurt too badly. I am sure she will recover and do fine. I just have to say....hooray for eventing with QH's!!!

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