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SherlockThis last month or so the thought “Responsibility” has been a recurring theme.

Our season was going well really, the first two events felt fantastic, we came second in both. Then when we were warming up for the dressage on the third event it felt like Sherlock faltered in his stride, and then <BLOG_BREAK>he was just slightly lame. We walked around a bit as we were due in, and he seemed OK so we rode our test. For most of it he was OK, but there were just a few strides that were not. Our score of 34 reflected that our test was a bit “off”, I was expecting a sub-30 score, he was not “lame” but he was not “right”.

I put Sherlock away and was going to withdraw, but when he came out for Show Jumping he felt fine, I decided he had probably just trodden on a stone, and in fact did an OK round, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0A9GO6zGUE  . The jumping was OK for that time, it was just the scary flowers that had fallen off a jump that jumped out and scared him! The cross country was fantastic, he felt strong.

He seemed fine after this day, so we went ahead and entered our first Novice, at Aston Le Walls. Wow, Show Jumping up to 1.15m. Again he felt a bit off in the dressage, the ground was a bit hard, and we did not score well. He seemed OK, so we went on to do OK Show Jumping. On the XC he felt a little surprised at the added difficulty, and we made an error early on, but the further we went the better it felt, we grew up together as we went along.

After this event Sherlock did not feel comfortable, but we had a visit from the Chiropractor, and he went completely sound after this. So, enter Sommerford BE100 class, a bit lower in height so we can see how we feel.

Sherlock felt sound, had a flap at the scary bushes at the entrance to the dressage, jumped OK (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLGs4kDqSVU ), and the XC was good too. We then went on to do a couple of BSJA Discoveries ( see Port Royal http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EKviLurjhg&feature=related and Sykehouse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Hlwv_mcfqk&feature=related , and all seemed well.

But I knew that it was not.

Just occasionally Sherlock was dropping a stride or two in his warm-up. Never quite lame, but not right either. Not enough to analyse. I had already entered another Novice at Llanymynech. Just to be sure Sherlock would be comfortable we had another chiropractor appointment, which made Sherlock completely sound and we went.

Dressage was great, we had a 28.5. The ground was a bit firm though, and when we came to warm up for the Show Jumping he was not lame, but he felt a bit flat. The show jumping was not good, Sherlock and I resisted each other  and the picture was not harmonious. We did complete the event, and the cross country was the best we ever have done, the Novice course felt easy, it was smooth, powerful, and the water jump was quite the stiffest I have seen at Novice level.

Novice water
Sherlock had a few days off, and the chiropractor, and I set to work at the issue of not “being harmonious” and in fact had the pleasure of watching a seminar given by an Olympic Dressage rider. The thing I most realised from watching the sessions was that I was recognising that our canter was not “good enough” and was then riding extra hard to “make” the canter better. I was not setting Sherlock up to “allow” the better work and then leaving him to it. I was trying to take all of the responsibility, and was then doing too much, setting up tension. I worked in our schooling field on asking for the canter, slowing it down, and leaving it as Sherlock’s responsibility to keep whatever canter I set. I could “help” him to re-balance, I could “ask” for more speed, or less speed, or more impulsion, but once I had given the direction, then I had to stay still again and hand the responsibility to Sherlock to keep it.

Not that Sherlock always got it right, in fact at the start he often did not. When he did not get it right, I just asked him to do it different than he had just done. It all felt so calm, and yes, “harmonious” and I was doing far less, and then I was sitting better with no tension, and you know, when I was not “at him” all the time Sherlock could actually “hear” what I was saying when I did say something! Hmmmm, I think I wrote about that with one of the top Show Jumpers in a previous blog, that he said very little to his horse, he just made corrections when necessary, and how he was so relaxed (including in his face!), but when he did have something to say the horse knew to really listen as the rider was not giving “white noise” all of the time.

I did a session in the school over small jumps, and when we are both relaxed it feels as though Sherlock “unlocks” his back, and then he can really move, and I don’t feel that we need to fight.

You know I was really looking forward to our next two events, one BE100 regional final to hopefully qualify for the Grassroots final at Badminton 2011, and a Novice at Oasby. I was feeling pretty confident about both, truth be told!

After this Sherlock did just one more schooling jumping competition, where again he was not lame, but he was obviously to me not comfortable. It just showed in resistance, and stiffness, and crookedness. I know that these are difficult as they present as schooling issues, but I cannot seem to erase the issues, yet when he has a chiropractor appointment they melt away. I called the Chiropractor, previously she had recommended to keep working Sherlock as we adjusted him, to strengthen him up, but on this occasion she was more guarded, yes she could probably make him “sound” again, but she felt that his chiropractic issues were probably secondary to another problem, that we may be masking.

I decided to be quick now to “take responsibility” for Sherlock’s welfare. He was not “lame”, and with a chiropractic treatment he would again be “comfortable” so we could compete. But now, with the possibility that we could be doing damage to an unknown injury I had to pull the plug. I took Sherlock out of work. We visited the Farrier, and he could find no issue in his “external” feet.

I called the vet. I actually called a vet that is a specialist in diagnostics of horses who are not performing, but who are not “lame”. I had to admit that if I fetched Sherlock to him them he would probably trot up sound. He would probably lunge sound too. He would drop the odd stride when changing rein when warming up, other than that he was working quite crooked, but he was not “lame” in the accepted sense.

The vet explained that in order to diagnose Sherlock he would need more. We could do diagnostic nerve blocks, but he would have to be consistently short striding to know when we had found the spot, so we could X ray, find a problem, then know how to treat it. I would have to work Sherlock hard enough to produce a lameness, so we could know how to treat the lameness.

Then followed the worst week I have had since owning Sherlock, deliberately making him lame. I had studied him this season and I know that he feels less comfortable when he is shod, when he wears studs, and when he is concussed. The simplest way to have him lame seemed to be to trot on the roads, which is not something that I generally do.

If anyone else knows a better way that I could have handled this then I would like to know so I could do better next time. I rode him at trot right round the village once, and he was not comfortable and I hated it. I did not want him to think that I could not recognise when he was not comfortable, or even worse he might think that I did not care. I hated that idea so much that for the rest of the time I did “ride and lead” riding either a pedal bike or Charlie so I did not have to ride Sherlock, but he could trot.
The bike was funny. Sherlock has never liked bikes, I don't think he understands them, people just float along, that's not right! I knew he would not initially "be good" as he would not understand the brevity of the situation. I was right, his attention was elsewhere, he knocked me clean off the bike, then he scared himself, and pulled back, and I was on my backside with the bike ontop of me so I could not get up, and that scared him too, and then he felt the force of my energy that we WILL do this, and he realised its importance, and then he stood still while I got extracted from the situation, and sorted the bike back out. Then he really concentrated on what this new trick was, and he was brilliant, trotting along with a slack rope, realising the importance of keeping his nose level with my elbow. What a horse!
By the end of it Sherlock was still pretty sound on the flat, but a bit “off” on a circle, enough to diagnose anyway.
The upshot of the vets visit was that Sherlock has a problem in his coffin joint area, but the x rays of his navicular and coffin bones/joint are perfectly clear. So, he has a soft tissue injury, possibly his collateral ligament.
Sherlock had had 3 years in a field when he arrived, and I did be SO careful with fittening him up, we started with a lot of steady walking and it must have been 6 months before we did any hard work. Even so he was little “off” at the end of last season, which cured itself when he was off with all the ice and snow. Again I was so careful to get him fit correctly, starting with straight line walking, and moving on slowly, even so, this year  he did just two events and was “off” again. I am betting that this little "off-ness" problem may be recurrent for our future if I do not radically change something in our management.

The vets are quite positive, even for a return to eventing next year. We have injected into the coffin joint with steroids, Sherlock has had his shoes removed, and  is currently on box rest with a 20  minute walk out in hand every day. In fact we all enjoyed the “ride and lead” with Charlie that we are doing this as a daily feature. I don’t know why, but “ride and lead” always seems to make people smile.

 I did used to do a lot of ride and lead as a teenager- I was paid to keep half the livery yard fit, and this was just a good way to do it. I used to go out for 2 hours a pair, and some rides were in suburbia, and some rides were in the open where we would do 20 minutes of canter at a time. One time in a suburban ride I can remember a little girl of about 10 years old, who loudly exclaimed “Its not FAIR, I haven’t got a horse and SHE has TWO, and she isn’t even riding one of them!!!”

For one of our early morning “ride and lead” adventures see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRt5qPzZ4X8&playnext=1&videos=mXg_SO2z5LQ&feature=mfu_in_order

I have decided to make the new Barefoot Sherlock a long term thing. I know that when he is shod this is a trigger for him to be uncomfortable, despite the fact that my farrier is amazingly fantastic. Barefoot would remove this shoeing trigger point. Studs is another trigger- now with no shoes there will be no studs! Concussion is the third trigger, well, with no shoes the foot is able to expand at the heels as nature intended, the frog and digital cushion come into play, and the concussion is reduced, some say by up to 70%

 I am also finding foot care to be fascinating. My wonderful farrier is quite prepared to help me learn to shape Sherlock’s feet myself, which is permitted for your own horse, and to back me up as I learn.

So far we have done 3 weeks of regular 20 minute roadwork, at least 2 out of 3 days, and Sherlock’s feet are looking fantastic. We have our first farrier check-up tomorrow. Sherlock is sound again already. We have another  2 weeks of this regime before we start to make Sherlock’s life more interesting again. Then- well Who Knows?

I have decided not to “mask” whatever is happening with Sherlock. The lameness is so slight, and has cleared up so quickly I am sure a lot of people would not be so worried. I think it is because this little horse has really invested his heart in ME, that I feel it is my responsibility to do my best for HIM. Even if that works out that we no longer event. I think it may mean a different, barefoot way, of managing his work. But who knows, if I feel he would be better off with shoes then he can have shoes!
On a more lighthearted note....

I have a video I have listed as “private” on youtube, it is my mum trying to entertain a poorly Sherlock while he is on box rest.




I put it as private as she is, in fact, still in her dressing gown, so if that bothers you, don't watch it!  It is a fantastic video of my seventy something mother doing what she can to make a situation better, and showing that she knows how to have fun!!!


Made me smile anyway!


Ruth. Xx.

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  1. sue

    i would love to meet you

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  2. cordy coupland

    Thank you for sharing this process of Sherlocks with us. I have heard it but to read about it sheds a new image of all of it and the purpose of all the work you chose to do with him. You (and your Mom) are an inspiration.

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