It's been a pretty rough year for me, horse wise at least. For more than seven years I have been 'professionally' working round horses, writing about them for junior-riders.com and eurodressage.com and I have loved every minute of it. However, in the end, the one thing that matters most to me are my own horses. They are my source of inspiration for all the equestrian work I do; they are my motivation, reincarnated on four legs. With 2005 behind us and 2006 knocking at the door, the time has come to do a small year in review and to get personal with the readers of Eurodressage.
I am the lucky owner of three horses. I own my very first pony, a New Forest Pony mare named Didi. She's 19 years old, happily retired five years ago and alpha mare in the field. She's my doll, my sweet heart, my cuddle baby. Furthermore, instead of buying a car, I invested into a foal this year. I have been looking at so many video tapes of foals for sale, been to auctions, but it took one lovely, home made DVD to make me fall in love with a superb foal. Greystoke is his name, he's by Rosentanz x Michelangelo x Worth and he's my little project in Denmark. And then of course, there is Grace. MY HORSE.
Grace is a 13-year old Westfalian mare by Grafenfels x Ludendorff, which my father bought for me when she was five. Our partnership together has been smooth sailing until November 2003, when she suffered a severe colic attack and had to be operated on. She nearly died, but fortunately pulled through thanks to her good general health and her character. I nursed her at the clinic every day from morning till night and created such a strong bond with this horse, which I was unable to establish the seven previous years. We got connected. After the colic episode, I hoped that all my horse misery would be over, but I was wrong.
2005 has been a very difficult year because in December 2004, Grace got lame for the first time in her life. She had a chip in her hock which needed to be removed, so we trailered her to the clinic in Germany for her second operation. After six slow weeks of recovery, I carefully started to ride her again, but she didn't feel completely right. Back to the Germany for a new diagnosis: broken sesamoid in the right hind leg, which meant a third operation. Again one month box rest, followed a couple of weeks of walking and then slowly building up her condition by doing some trot work.
In the early summer of 2005, we were back into a light riding routine. Grace was no longer lame, but she didn't feel 100% the old one. Every time I trotted on the right track, I sensed something slightly off and was annoyed and frustrated by it. I knew I had to give my mare time, and was more than willing to do so, but I couldn't help noticing that gnawing feeling inside me which whispered "You're horse is finished, start looking for a stallion to breed her to." I was not yet ready to say goodbye to Grace's sport career. "Two more years, give me two more years to ride her," I prayed to whichever god is watching over our horses.
My routine to get Grace fit again after those months of walking and light trotting in the spring, consisted in doing 30 minutes relaxed walk/trot (Tuesday), 40 minute lesson (light work, Wednesday), walking on long reins (Thursday), 40 minute lesson (light work, Friday), walking on long reins (Saturday) and two days off (Sunday in the field - Monday box rest). She was no longer lame but I continued to feel a disturbing stiffness on the right hand, which meant that I had to maintain this routine until November 2005.
When I came back from my trip to New Zealand on November 22, 2005, I drove to Germany to pick up my new Kempkens boots. The first time I rode Grace in my new boots, she moved the best she had felt in 2005. Completely sound, not even the slightest disturbance on the right side. My horse was reborn! I was afraid to cherish the hope that this bad year would over; that my horse had cured, but it's been weeks now since Grace's D-day (i.e. November 22) and she's going super. I have been able to do more riding and can put a bit more pressure on her in the lessons. She's giving me a 100% every single day. We're back on track, I'm no longer afraid to say it out load and this is making me more happy than anything else in the world.
It might have been my new boots (which put me in a better position in the saddle) that triggered this sudden soundness, but my guess is that it has been routine, routine and routine which got my horse back on track. 2006 might be looking good for me in the horse department. I hope it will be for you too!
-- Astrid Appels