It has been a fantastic ten days since my horse, Jaliska, has been back in Massachusetts. She has been away in intensive training in South Carolina, and then Pennsylvania, for five long months.
Since her return in late June, trainer Adrienne Iorio, Apple Knoll Farm, Millis, MA, has been working with me every single day to hone my riding skills to the extent that I can ride her properly when Adrienne heads home to Pennsylvania for the month.
It has been a tough road since November 2011, and the saying, “Man(kind) plans and God laughs,” comes to mind.
Let me explain.
Last year I was cruising along, goal in mind, and thought I was making pretty good progress toward my quest of competing in a Grand Prix; although I’m sure my trainers would beg to differ at times (and they were probably right). Needless to say, good or bad, it all came to a crashing halt when Jaliska contracted Lyme Disease towards the end of the year. Although it was caught and treated quickly, it left her with a strange ‘bunny like’ hop when in canter.
We were perplexed so we had her checked by the local veterinarian who concluded that she had back pain. She treated it with shock wave therapy, which seemed to help for about a week, until the strange symptom returned with a vengeance.
Still thinking her weak back was the cause of our problems, I had her shipped to Adrienne’s facility in Aiken, SC for the winter for a full training regiment, with the goal of strengthening her back and improving her skills. After about a month we realized that J’s back, while still of concern was not the crux of the matter. Adrienne called in ‘big gun’ vet Dr. Kevin Keane (US Olympic Equestrian Medical Team) to have a look.
After Jaliska nearly took them both out during a stifle flexion exam, Dr. Keane concluded that her stifle is the issue. Although he admitted that he’d only seen this ‘bunny like’ hopping in about 1% of his cases (which says a lot as he examines upwards of 100 horses a week). “If this problem isn’t corrected, she could never be a jumper, as her strides would be off, “Dr. Keane stated, as a matter of fact, “and she could certainly never be a dressage horse,” he noted further. I was devastated at the thought.
Dr. Keane ordered a hormone treatment as a cautious first step. Ultimately they didn’t cause any improvements.
Her daily training continued to be slow and painful, for both trainer and horse. “If every horse I managed were this difficult,” Adrienne declared, “I couldn’t do it.”
LEFT: Trainer, Adrienne Iorio, right, assembled a 'Dream Team' of veterinarians to treat Jaliska. Shown here with the author
So we had her X-rayed, which showed nothing of significance. You can imagine the worry I felt as I continued to allocate resources to find out what was ailing my poor horse, but to no avail.
With the stifle now the main concern, Dr. Keane referred Jaliska to Dr. Levine of the New Bolton Center, Philadelphia, PA (Jaliska arrives at the New Bolton Center, PA, right) with orders for a bone scan and subsequent round of stifle injections.
This treatment improved her by about 60%. Still, her canter was of significant concern. So Adrienne had Jaliska examined by local vet Dr. Fred Nostrant of North Bridge Equine Associates, Concord, MA, who proceeded to give her coffin and hock injections. Five weeks later, Dr. Keane noticed improvement in her muscle tone and riding ability, so he injected her stifles once again and this time also injected her sacroiliac (SI) joint.
Since the last round of injections, about a month ago, the progress Jaliska has made has been staggering. She is a new horse, and I am thrilled, not to mention relieved. She has muscled up and stopped fighting her training (as it no longer hurts). The ‘bunny hopping’ has all but gone away, and now that she’s out of pain her training has come together and she’s a dream to ride.
This dramatic and painful part of my journey, which I’m sure many readers can unfortunately relate to, has concluded with a very happy ending. My main takeaway from this ordeal is that it’s critical to identify and treat the root of the problem because you can’t “Band-Aid” it, no matter how hard you try, even with the best training. In Jaliska’s case, she had an inflamed stifle which ultimately caused several other issues, i.e. not using her hind end and causing problems for her back, neck, hocks, coffins, and more.
With my horse improved, the attention now comes back to me; can Adrienne now make me rideable?
AcknowledgmentsI would like to personally thank the veterinarians that treated my horse over the past six months. Without their combined approach to high-quality treatment, Jaliska (and I) would still be struggling today.
Column PreviewI am excited announce that I will be bringing Jaliska to meet and train with the oh-so talented Mr. Peter Leone at his gorgeous equestrian estate Lionshare Farm this month! Check out my column for all of the details from shadowing Peter for two whole days. Learn firsthand his advice for me, a novice to the sport he has mastered, what it’s like for him when preparing for a Grand Prix competition, along with the inspiration behind his fantastic new book, “Peter Leone’s – Show Jumping Clinic.”