Dusty – kissing spines update

Some of the people who have been following my blog for a while may remember that I help out with a horse called Dusty. Last year he was diagnosed with kissing spines – this is where the spinous processes are too close together, causing pain for the horse.

As a result of the kissing spines, Dusty had several problems in his ridden work. These included him being reluctant to work in a proper outline (he would lower his head but wouldn’t actually be working over his back), he would struggle to bend and pick up canter on the left rein and would often trip up.

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Last Summer he had steroid injections in his back to alleviate the pain: these worked for a while and I think his owner made quite a bit of progress with him out hacking (I was still struggling with learning how to ride him properly!) However, after a few months the effects of this treatment wore off, so at the end of February this year Dusty went back to the vets to have his back operated on.

Initially I thought that the surgery would involve pieces of bone being cut away to create more space between the spinous processes (and I think this is what was originally suggested) but Dusty actually had a different type of surgery where the ligament in between the close spinous processes is cut.

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After his operation, Dusty then stayed at a yard in Burnham Market for six weeks of rehabilitation. This began by him going on the horse walker every day for four weeks (and yes, apparently he was bored by the end of it!), followed by him being lunged each day for two weeks. He was then ridden a couple of times at the yard before returning to the field.

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However, the rehabilitation does not stop there! It is important that Dusty now realises that he isn’t in pain anymore – he still has habits such as tossing his head and lifting a back leg when I go to tighten his girth, but seeing as he often does this before I’ve even started to do it up I think that this may be a learned response to the old pain.

I have been schooling him in the field since he returned home: he isn’t really allowed to canter yet but I’ve had so much to work on in walk and trot that I haven’t minded at all. We’ve been doing lots of circles of varying sizes – from large 20m circles to tiny loops around tyres laid on the ground. I also set out a variety of trotting pole exercises – as well as ordinary trotting poles in a straight line, I’ve had some at angles so that I can ask him to bend over them. Spacing the poles in an irregular fashion encourages him to think about where he is putting his feet more, which is also good for him.

Despite all of this (and my best efforts to correct the bad habits which I know have crept back into my riding) I still felt that I wasn’t quite ‘getting it’ – that he was still just putting his head in a pretty position and not actually working over his back.

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In an attempt to fix this, I had a lesson with Dusty yesterday at the field. The lady that taught me is a ‘ride with your mind’ instructor. It may sound a bit strange (or at least that’s what I thought when Dusty’s owner first told me about it) but since I had my first lesson a year ago it’s completely transformed the way I ride.

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Having begun my journey with horses in a riding school, I was constantly told ‘heels down, shoulders back and sit up’. This was fine when I started out, but when I wanted to learn more than how to go forwards, steer and stop it suddenly wasn’t enough and despite lots of help from various different people, I still really felt like there was something lacking in the way I rode.

I’m still a long way from where I want to be, but the ride with your mind techniques have brought me so much closer and as I discovered yesterday, when I am riding properly Dusty is able to work over his back correctly, without me fiddling with his mouth or kicking him.

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Over the next few weeks I am going to continue to practice what I learnt in my lesson and I will try to gather some more videos to share. The video below was taken two days before the lesson, so there are a few mistakes in there which I am going to work on but it shows some of what we’ve been up to…

Thanks for reading!