Saturday, September 24, 2011

Commander is Go! Ben? Not so.

There’s a new twist in the will-I-ever-ride-Ben-again saga: the operative verb may be “can” rather than “will”. Can he safely carry a rider or is he no longer serviceably sound?

The question arises because I now have a delightful young woman passionate enough about riding, and hungry enough for a horse fix, to drive the roughly 35 miles from Winchester to Essex two or three times a week so she can saddle up my two pudgy old boys for ten or fifteen minutes each of walking around the ring, with maybe a couple minutes of trot thrown in at the end of that wild excitement. To date, Betsy’s had one riding session under my supervision to check her out while she checked out Ben and Commander, and one without me there (but with farm owner Maria observing from the house, unseen by Betsy). The verdict on Betsy is she’s just what the boys need to be brought back carefully into riding shape.

The verdict on Commander’s rideability is heck, yeh, he’s ready to boogie. Betsy loves him, thinks he’s a hoot. He needed to warm up out of a little stiffness but quickly loosened up and swung right out. This has been normal for him as long as I’ve had him (two years now!). As long as the founder doesn’t recur (and I’m being fanatical about that) he should work back into his usual Energizer-Bunny form, no problem.

The verdict on Ben’s rideability is not as encouraging. Now, he’s always had issues with kissing spines and hock arthritis as long as I’ve owned him. Even when in regular work, with a saddle on his back he needed to be handwalked before mounting for a few minutes to get his hind legs out of tiny mincing steps into a more swinging sweep; then with his rider aboard he’d be back to mincing again for some minutes before his hind feet were reaching well under him. The long layoff from work it seems hasn’t changed that.

What was different and worrisome on Betsy’s first ride was his reaction to being asked for the right-lead canter near the end of her trial ride. He’d walked well once warmed up; had even volunteered to trot several times before being allowed to do brief test spurts; had picked up a lovely easy left-lead canter, which after a few strides got mildly “Hey! Yippee! I’m running here!” hinky. Betsy lightly said no, walk please, and Ben complied, no problem. Then after another minute of walk we decided to test his right lead.

Oh-oh. Betsy asked on the curve of the turn. Ben flung himself into a half-dozen strides of agitated head-high wrong-lead jouncing mess. He calmed down back at the walk, but it was a sobering sight.

Two other observations: Betsy told me after her second ride that she did a minute or so of trot each way and that Ben was uncomfortable with the left diagonal. I’ve noticed over the last few months that when he and Commander are released for grazing onto the paddock, as he surges out onto the downward slope to the grass he sometimes catches his left hind toe in a mini-stumble.

I talked this all over with Ben’s long-time massage therapist, who used to work him over regularly when I was riding him. Lael pointed out that his left hind has always been weaker than the right, and we agreed that his current state of flabby unfitness isn’t helping it any. We also discussed his back, what signs of trouble to be alert for there.

Bottom line: The light exercise Betsy’s providing should help improve Ben’s physical condition, but there’s no question the boy has some problems, especially in his left hind. For everyone’s safety it may turn out to be best for Ben to retire completely.

As long as the food and love keep coming, I doubt this will bother Ben at all.

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