Over a year ago I pulled Gracie's shoes because she kept losing them and I was tired of calling the farrier to come put shoes on. I had them pulled off her flaky little OTTB feet and I didn't think anything of it. She was a little foot sore, but after time her feet hardened (I thought) and she looked great.
If only hindsight was 20/20. As I reflect now, I realize that after I pulled Gracie's shoes last summer she turned into a bucking monster. First it was just a little in the canter. Then she refused to trot, then there was no walk. She would ball up, curl up underneath me, and just refuse to move. If I applied any aid to go forward she would kick or buck. If you touched her with the whip then it was a big buck.
So...I thought her back was hurting and I bought her a new saddle. :)
Then a while later I bought her a better saddle. And somewhere in between there I had her tested for lyme and it was positive. So we thought - lyme + back pain = buck + no forward.
But after the newest saddle wore off there was still no improvement. A few days of forward, and then back to her old state.
I think when you have an OTTB you have a little paranoid voice over your shoulder that always says "Is she really sound? Are you really sure she is sound?" You always hear stories of horses not quite right and then you see their radiographs and there's a few surprises hiding in there from life at the track. So we took a few radiographs of her feet and her back. My vet's response: She needs shoes.
So then Gracie spent more money: She had a chiropractic adjustment, new shoes, a new saddle, and still no forward. Now she needed really fantastic training to fix her desire to go forward.
This is when training becomes important. After getting those items in line I eagerly awaited our clinic with Stephanie Durand, a certified instructor of Philippe Karl's School of Legerete. Now it was a mental training issue to teach Gracie to go forward. At the clinic Stephanie was informed in advance of Gracie's issues. The first thing she did was pull the saddle off and check several points for pain.
Stephanie played with Gracie for quite some time with no tack. Gracie was more than happy to walk and trot off in-hand with a little pressure on her side. We put the saddle back on Gracie and she walked off with short steps. Interesting.
We pulled the saddle off and she walked off normal again. Saddle back on and girth tightened = shortened steps.
I watched Stephanie reprogram Gracie's desire to go forward the first day of the clinic. If she applied pressure Gracie was expected to go forward. It was broken down into minuscule little pieces for her to comprehend. Then she tightened the girth and practice going forward. After Gracie accepted a tightened girth, the stirrups were put down and she was expected to go forward. Everything that mentally blocked Gracie about riding was reprogrammed in tiny little steps.
By the end of the clinic I was riding Gracie on a loose rein walk, trot, canter (wee little buck) forward. Gracie was to be worked without contact on a loose rein for about four weeks. Once she responds to my seat to go quietly walk, trot, canter forward, then we can play the "I pick up contact and you still go forward" game.
I'm really looking forward to riding Gracie in our next Legerete clinic with Andrea Walz.