Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Sway Back Mare

Thirty years ago, or so, I found myself on the ground, on my back, looking up. I did not get there on purpose nor by choice, but rather at the cost of a cheap bridle and a young mare who had been sent off to be broken to ride, but who apparently wasn’t. This was obvious now from my current prone position on the hard packed October clay that I had been riding her on. I soon learned that my head had landed in a pillow of a fire ant mound. My hair was full of the little critters, my face was covered with them too, and I felt like a human sparkler. I got up and swatted them off as best as I could, then tried to asses the damage from the fall. Adrenalin was doing its job and hiding most of the damage that I would learn about later, so I hobbled off to find that **** mare who had just thrown me to the moon. My plan was revenge, of course, maybe.

The mare had been away for two months, taken to a fellow who was supposed to have turned a young mare into a nice green, but safe ride. He hadn’t. The mare first bucked my husband off on the maiden voyage upon her return. The next day I set out to reprimand this uncool behavior, and with the misguided aid of a cheaply made “schooling bridle” I had recently purchased, I got on her and put a leg on her, a leg meaning, I was putting pressure on her to get a response. On a trained and broke horse this generally means to move away from the leg. On a horse who is not broke this usually evokes, first the feel of sitting on a blow fish where the horse puffs up their girth area and lifts the saddle, then there comes the release. The cork pops and the animal below you leaves the ground, tucks its head, and does its best to toss you to the farthest location away from the saddle. My plan had been to have gotten to the puffer fish part and then to circumvent the next part, to raise one rein and thwart the coming buck with a bit of teeth rearranging with the bridle.

Things were going to plan up until the part where she set out to get her head down for that upcoming buck and I set back on my right rein to counter. With great surprise and amazement the rein broke and for the briefest of moments, I thought, uh oh. The mare  paused, assessing the upper hand she had just gotten, then really got her head down, free at last,  and I was slung like a frisbe, which leads us back to the beginning.

I am allergic to ant bites. So this was a problem. The fact, too, that when I went to do the proverbial, “get back up on the horse” thing, I couldn’t, literally. My left knee would not lift to get to the stirrup, and my lower back was really beginning to hurt. I, rather painfully, managed to squeeze my custom Dehner boots off, and drove myself to the doc in a box to deal with an on coming allergic reaction to all of the ant bites.  

After they had dealt with my allergy thing, I asked for an X-ray for my back which was now in spasms of intense pain. I soon learned that in that unceremonious dismount that day I broke spinal processes on L 3 and 4, was hospitalized for a week in solid bed rest, and off the horse for months, while I wore a very charming corset from just under my breast to my butt. The horse did finally get broke and my back did heal sort of, but it took a while, and that's for another story.

Fast forward to a few years back, I was in the motions of feeding the horses, letting them into their respective stalls one at a time, when my phone rang. Instead of returning the call later, as I should have, I got distracted, answered it, and found myself suddenly flung to the ground by a horse who had gotten trapped by another horse, her alpha, and running over me was her only way not to get killed by the other horse. Again my body, especially lower parts, hips and knees, were damaged in ways that have just begun to fully manifest themselves…

At a recent  visit with my chiropractor who has been working on me for years trying to keep my shoulder in line, my pelvis from rotating and moving around pulling muscles in strange directions, I mentioned that usually her work stays in place for several weeks but now was not. She asked how long and I replied a day, maybe. On her advice then, I had a consult with guy who had done previous rehab on my shoulder after  its surgery many moons ago. It too was a horse related injury, but again a different story. I asked him for maybe some specific exercises to counter my bones that keep moving around and hurting. I was having pain in my hip and figured it was the culprit. He said X-rays first, and sent me to a spine specialist for pictures that would tell us what was going on. Pictures showed my hip was fine but that L4 and L 5 were barely speaking to each other. L4 was sliding forward across the top of L5 out of alignment, and pressing nerves. I seemed that I had become a proverbial sway back mare. Surgery was mentioned as a fix, but I said therapy first in attempt to avoid the knife.

When I was a kid and first heard the term, sway back, there was something humorous about the term. Seems like there was a tv show on where there was an ancient white mare who’s back was swooped down from withers to its hip, and hung like a hammock. I can’t remember the story, but her condition was the funny part of the show. It never occurred to me that her condition might have been hurting the poor horse. I can empathize now, and there is no humor.

 Some horses, especially brood mares who have carried foals,  can develop the shape early to some degree. My old mare Limerick at one point gotten a bit of a sway and I needed to present her to some judges for better registration ranks for her foals. So for several weeks I put her on a lunge line and over and over I sent her across cavaletti poles, (think major crunches) making her pick her feet up and lift her belly up as she trotted over them. The time spent worked and she returned to her pre pregnant figure and achieved her status for the breeding designation.

I am learning, slowly, that injuries are cumulative, often irreversible, and can be life changers in mere seconds. They relate to each other and feed on the imbalances they produce, until, one day, the news becomes rather bleak. The combined effects of these old injuries, plus a change in saddle this past year that would not allow me to sit in the posture I had been used to but tipped my pelvis forward instead of backwards, and a laxing up on regular exercise like riding our road bikes, has come together to put me where I am now. So instead of me trotting over poles to cure my sway, I have been going to rehab twice a week for three weeks now to be put through the tortures of the dungeon. It is all about the posture, the standing with tone. It is the willing by choice that your muscles work to hold yourself up. I can’t make those traumatic injuries of old go away, but I can and am making their effects, and my recent lack of keeping more fit, better. My pain has subsided and I feel better than I have in a long time. I hate exercise, but it does work, darn it.