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We Are Flying Solo

October 7, 2012

The Horseman's Decision

Dr. Bob warned me on Tuesday that Encore would be sore for a while following a rather large chiropractic adjustment and recommended that I keep him on bute for the rest of the week.  I asked if he would be ok to do the horse trial and he didn't say no.  But I saw a look that I knew and I wondered.  Looking back, I think he made a gamble and because he knows me, hoped it would work.

I schooled Encore lightly on Thursday, some walk/trot lateral and stretching work and a few crossrails.  He felt great.

We trailered to the Horse Park on Friday and settled in for the night.  I wanted to hack him that evening, but ran out of time and daylight and we had to settle for a walk.
Carolina dawn.
 The Moment of Weakness

Dressage warmup was ugly.  Encore was unfocused.  I regretted not making the time to at least longe him the day before.  He had no bend, ignored my leg except to leap forward from every application.  He was stiff, cranky, and anticipatory.  40 minutes of work brought some improvement and I thought we might squeak through.

We didn't.  He turned like a motorcycle, ignored every aide, had no bend in either direction, stiffened and braced whether I was soft or not, and generally brought me near to tears by the end.  Which is almost impossible.  I made a promise on this blog that I would be open about the whole process, that I would not create some kind of false Facebook life where only the good is shared.  So yes, there is a video.  A sad, sad video.  Erm, at least I am getting better at sitting up straight?  And yes, yes he is violently allergic to the rail and wanders drunkenly down the long side like a lost cow. 

I slumped in despair when we left the arena.  Arriving back at our stall, where we were next door to our friend Sue and her magical, wonderful homebred, Rocky The Amazing Horse, I finally said it out loud:  "This just makes me want to give up.  I want to pack up my trailer right now and go home."

The Rally

I didn't.  I took a deep, shaky breath and took a long look at my horse.  I gave him a snack and a drink and thought hard.  He is a worker bee, he does not generally just behave like an asshole because he can.  Gearing up for stadium jumping (it was a one day HT), I decided to feel every step and carefully evaluate what was going on beneath me.

He jumped five or six warmup fences well, moving up when I asked and mostly maintaining a rhythm.  But he leaned hard on the left rein and his left lead canter was a bit flat.  We started our course and after jump 1 when he hit the ground running, the pieces began to form a clearer picture.

He ran at the jumps and about halfway through, started pulling rails behind.  There were only 9 fences so it ended quickly and as we walked out, the answer was clear:  his left hip was still sore, despite the bute and he needed more time.  Apparently a few jumps was ok.  15 was too many.

The Big Decision 

We began our walk over to XC, my first thought being, "Well, we might as well finish."  Then I paused.  Why?  There was nothing to gain -- the course was EXACTLY the same as the once we jumped at 5 Points, there were no new challenges.  I hadn't checked our dressage score, but I've gotten fairly accurate in my assessments and it certainly was not competitive and we'd just pulled at least 3 rails.  I knew my horse was sore and there was nothing to be gained by running him up and down hills for 4 minutes, knowing he would jump flat, chip in, and generally try his best while being physically compromised.  That would just be stupid.

So I walked over to the steward (who was very kind and sympathetic, thank you), calmly informed her we were withdrawing because my horse was sore, and returned the barn to pack up.

The legendary CHP steeplechase infield would not see this Thoroughbred's hoofprints today.
Disheartening?  Absolutely.  A hard choice?  Not really, because I strive to always put my horse first.  Frustrating?  Well, considering my day would have been better spent drinking and setting $300 on fire, yes, I'd say so.  Six hours of driving and we had neither learned nor developed a thing.

The Aftermath

I knew someday it was a choice I would have to make -- looking out for my horse in the long term vs. the short term gratification of completing an event.  It was a choice I will never forgive myself for not making for Solo and it cost us both a great deal.  It was the indisputably right choice to make for Encore yesterday.  I was also encouraged that people in stabling near us that I didn't even know expressed their support and good wishes for our choice and our future when we made it back.

I don't think there is any real damage done; I will talk to Dr. Bob on Monday and assess.  The only real stressor is that we have four weeks and I'm already $400 in to the VA Horse Trials in November.  A part of me wants to just give up, scratch, move the surgery up and be done with it.  This fall season was supposed to be fun, the last good thing I had to look forward to for a long time.  Since 5 Points, it has not been fun.

Because I think it all traces back to that point (ha, see what I did there):  Encore was going very well and had an excellent dressage test.  But he had two big slips on XC on the hard ground and even then, I felt something that I couldn't identify and he jumped poorly on Sunday.  Now I am just upset with myself for not figuring out the problem sooner -- a tweaked up back that just needed a reset and some time, which I attempted to do too close to a competition because I was too slow.

But I am stubborn.  Perhaps stupidly so.  But I'm not giving up just yet; I never thought for a second any of this would be easy.

As of this past Wednesday, he is tapped for studs and wore them on Saturday, so we shall have no more slipping.  Hopefully, all he needs is a bit more time for his hip to settle and rest and he will be back to good.  Did you hear that, big, young, thing?  Get good, I need you!

Oh, we'll be back.  The dream will not die that easily.


  1. Bummer - I saw your stadium round and he was trying very hard. Good for you for making the right call - not an easy decision, I know. I was going to say hi but didn't want to seem all stalkerish. Fingers crossed Encore bounces back quickly!

  2. Hahaha about the stalking -- it's all good, someone else came up to me in stabling, I am always shocked that people find us, I take it as a huge compliment!

    Thank you for the good wishes -- baby always tries so hard and I am trying so hard to not be unfair to him!

  3. Kudos for making the Horseman's Decision.

    You should not feel badly about the dressage test. Whatever scores he received while less than 100% physically are not a valid assessment. On the bright side, he was still very obedient. What a nice horse.

  4. Encore is a Very Good Boy, and you are a Very Good Mommy for doing what was best for him. I can't imagine the frustration!

    I personally think, given his youth and good attitude, that four weeks will be enough time to get him back in order for VA. Stay positive!

  5. I think you are a great, compassionate horsewoman. While it is very frustrating to put $300 down the drain - so it feels you take something away from very experience and this one - YOU PUT YOUR HORSE FIRST!!!!!! I gear check at a lot of dressage comps and the amount of horses that I see in pain, being beaten, that are depressed all because thier riders and owners don't listen to them. So no I think you are AWESOME!!!!
    Hope he feels better soon!

  6. *HUG* You did the right thing, yeah the entry fee donation sucks, but it's what you thought was best for Encore. I can't tell you how many times I "donated" an entry fee because the High Queen was iffy off, declining to get in to the trailer, and a lot of other things. I had to give up a clinic with Allison Springer this weekend because my mare just inexplicably came up lame last Friday. Eh, there will be others. But good on you for making the hard, but right choice.

  7. Thank you all for the support! I've already stalked Dr. Bob and I've told him to bring all his magic over next week!