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What Dee Taught Me, Part Two

Published: 5/8/2014
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and a horse gal since age six. She teaches at Bay Harbor Equestrian Center in Michigan, riding English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, and several others.

In Part II of a three-part series, she considers trials and tribulations with her first horse, Dee.

Read more about her here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner
Journals & Journeys

Read Part One

I stretched Dee after every ride to help loosen the tight muscles and ligaments she carried around. We got chiropractic work, acupuncture from my very patient and wonderful vet, Dr. Pamela Graves of Jensen's Animal Hospital. Graves was often kicked at when she touched on the ouchy spots, and started doing lots of physical therapy-type work. It just didn't seem to get better, and so finally we decided to get it checked out and made an appointment for x-rays.

Graves colleague, Dr. Sarah Michellin, pulled me into the back room to look at my horse's x-rays and pointed to a bony mess.

“That's your problem: she has a fused hock. It looks like it's probably been around for years,” she said. My vet explained that a fused hock is caused by a repeated trauma to the joint from overwork or various other things. The joint begins degrading cartilage and creating calcium to protect itself, and as a result fuses together and loses mobility.

“But don't get too worried, her joints aren't too bad for a 12 year old. She is 12ish right?”

“She's only 9,” I replied.

“Oh. Well, her joints are pretty bad for a 9 year old.”

I asked why the lameness hadn't shown up earlier, and my vet mentioned that she had been running on adrenaline all the time. Maybe now that she was letting down, her lameness was more visible, but the signs had always been there: the cross-cantering, staying heavy on the forehand despite my efforts to transfer the weight back, and how upset and defensive she seemed to get doing some movements that probably caused her pain.

While discovering this lameness was upsetting, it sure filled in the missing piece of my puzzle.

My vet says I can still ride her, but will have to keep my expectations low, and we will more than likely be limited to lower level movements for the remainder of her life. I had dreamed of having her straight up in the bridle some day, starting colts off of her, moving cattle, and basically riding off into the sunset like all the happy endings in the movies.

I've made millions of mistakes with her, and it makes me sad to think of how many times I was frustrated or thought unkind things about her constant spooking, racing, running off, and spinning.

It was all she knew, and I didn't have the feel to help her. I was expecting her to just come around in no time at all, but she couldn't give me what she wasn't physically able to do. I wish I had the knowledge and timing I have now. And I wish I had done many things differently.

But I learned so much from Dee. I learned a lot about how a physical brace can create a mental one, how a mental one can reinforce a physical one, and so on and so forth, in a vicious cycle.

I learned how important it is sometimes to be soft when you want to be hard. While it's easy to follow them into the black hole of panic when they get upset, how meaningful it is to horses to stay centered and balanced.

I watched her go from a whirling dervish of uncontained fear and energy, to giving me the very first slow and relaxed canter of her whole life. That first blow and sneeze was the biggest paycheck I've ever gotten, and I'll never forget what that meant to me and how hard we had both worked for that.

I learned a lot about giving up preconceived notions of what it SHOULD look like, where we SHOULD be at, what progression we should be working through and in what order, etc, and just feeling the horse is on any given day.

Dee forced me to get out of my box and THINK. I learned to trust my instinct a lot more, and I learned a lot about forgiveness and acceptance. I learned to forgive the people who blew her mind and caused her such physical damage, to accept her as my own problem without blame, and to forgive myself for my mistakes. Dee always seemed to forgive me when I got on to something that worked for her, so I was surely able to forgive others as well.

I don't know if I would have bought her today, knowing what I know now. But I wouldn't take back the experience for anything. The lessons I've learned are invaluable, and like my mom always says, I'll consider the amount of dollars I've spent on getting her sound as “tuition.”

Dee will stay with me for the remainder of her life, sound or not. Maybe by not obsessing so much on making her “go right” she can have something she's never had in a human – a friend. After all she's been through, she surely deserves it, and she will always serve as a reminder to me of how important mindful riding and respect for the horse's well-being really is.

Part III coming soon: Nothing worth doing is easy.

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5/9/2014 Dr. Steve Peters
Every horse can teach us things, even when we are unaware of the lesson. When I think of all the horses that I have made mistakes with and continue to make mistakes with I realize it is always a process often benefiting the next horse down the line. I love your writing and ability to articulate this process. So glad to see your articles on Nicker News

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