In September 2019, Alfie and I competed in our first ever dressage horse show.
It was a huge undertaking for us as we had only been in the world of dressage for less than 6 months. It was a walk/trot competition we entered. I wasn’t sure we were ready, but my trainer had every bit of confidence we would do well. I was so nervous, and there was Alfie, calm cool and collected.
We ended up taking 5th place in the show, before you get excited, there were only 5 of us in that particular class. Yes, we came in last. But I didn’t care. This show for us wasn’t about winning, but about the experience.
During the show, Alfie seemed a little off. When we trotted he felt off balance. I couldn’t place exactly what was wrong but something wasn’t right. Alfie didn’t care, he kept going and did his best, and he seemed to be enjoying the show. After the show, I figured Alfie would be sore for a day or 2 but he wasn’t. He was lame the very next day. The following day he was even worse. The vet was called and it was determined it was either a soft tissue tendon injury or a bad foot bruise. The treatment – poultice foot soaks, banamine for the pain, and stall rest – for at least 6 weeks.
As the weeks went by with only being able to hand walk him, let him graze, groom him, Alfie started to get antsy. He was used to working when I would come and visit. On the outside he was only slightly lame, but as soft tissue injuries go, they heal in stages, and if you don’t allow the proper time for it to heal, it can get aggravated and worse. So after 8 weeks, I slowly returned Alfie to work but had made the decision to dial back his lessons to mostly walk, with very limited trotting. I wanted to keep Alfie rideable and sound for as long as possible. Fast forward to the present day…
Alfie is in amazing shape for his age and the amount of work we do. You know how I tell you that I listen to him, well when he wants to trot that’s a sign that he’s physically able to and wants to. This got me thinking. A few weeks ago I started toying with the idea of perhaps increasing his work load just a bit, and reintroducing the possibility of him cantering under saddle. My barn manager suggest it a few months ago after witnessing how beautiful he moves in his field. So the seed had been planted.
So, I decided, if Alfie has it in him, and wants to do more, ok, I can make that happen, but we are going to do it the right way. My goal – by springtime introduce Alfie to the canter again in ground work, and then by early summer, canter with him. If you are scratching your head wondering what the canter is, it’s a slower version of a gallop. So the horse walks, trots and canters (or “lopes” for my Western riding friends.
Now before doing something you haven’t done a lot of, you have to be strong and balanced, and have stamina. I mean you don’t sign up to run the NYC Marathon without training for it months if not years in advance. If you went from being a slightly active person to running a race, you would fall flat on your butt and most likely hurt yourself in the process. I had a plan in my head about how to get Alfie into stronger shape but I needed some guidance. Who better to ask than the woman who has been treating Alfie monthly with some amazing sports massage therapy. Yes, that’s right, Alfie gets sports massage therapy monthly.
I was first introduced to Noni VanSon of The Right Touch almost 2 years ago.
I took the day off work so I could observe Alfie’s first treatment. I was so fascinated with his adjustment and was in awe of how much he enjoyed it. This was the start of Alfie’s monthly adjustments. Over the next year his body condition improved and I learned many of the stretches to help make his body, especially his legs feel good. I didn’t realize how much benefit he was getting from these sessions until they briefly stopped because of COVID. When COVID hit New York in late February 2020, our state became known as the first “hot spot” of the entire country – and we were basically in a total lockdown. It would be almost 2 months before Alfie would get adjusted again, and I never was so excited to get the therapist back to him. It was after the lockdown was lifted that I met Brianne Valentino, the newest therapist of The Right Touch.
I remember giving her the lowdown on Alfie, you know, he’s nervous with new people, he might try to bite you because of his nerves. Brianne took it all in stride and by the time the session was done Alfie and Brianne were best friends. I was so happy to see how comfortable he was with her.
I decided to ask Brianne for some guidance on how to properly and safely increase Alfie’s workload. After all, she knows his body condition very well. She was more than happy to offer her knowledge and experience. In a nut shell – Alfie will go from 1 active day, to 3 -4 active days per week. The activity can be riding or working with him in hand and to gradually increase the amount of trot time every time we work together. After a month of this Brianne will evaluate his body to see if he’s handling the increased work well.
So today was the first day of hand working Alfie. I did his leg stretches, wrapped his legs in his polo wraps for tendon support and walked him into the arena. He was confused – there was no saddle. I did our warm up, several laps around the arena, a nice 20 meter circle, we crossed the diagonal, did everything in the other direction. Worked on serpentine exercises and did the intro to dressage level test at a brisk walk with a little bit of trot. So not only is Alfie building up his muscles and stamina but so am I. You all know how hard it is to walk on the beach in the sand? Well, that’s what our arena is like, the beach. After 35 min, I couldn’t feel my feet anymore and my legs were tired. We left the arena and spent about 30 min outside while his little nose poked through the dead grass to find the good grass – yes it’s winter but there’s still grass.
I brought Alfie back to his stall and we spent the afternoon quietly enjoying each other’s company. I stand outside his stall and gently sing to him. Before I knew it, his head was on my shoulder and he fell asleep.❤️
Alfie will get Monday and Tuesday off to recover and I will work again with him on Wednesday. I’m very excited to be able to give Alfie what he wants, to be able to work with him the right way to give his body a chance to adjust – slow and steady really does win the race. ❤️🐴