Sully Saturday: Do the Sticky Leg

As I count down the days (1 month 1 week!) until Sully returns home, I am making a game plan for prepwork needed in the next month or so as well as a checklist of things I want to address pretty much the minute he returns.

As of today, I have gotten actually back IN the saddle on one of my coach’s lesson mounts, but have only done groundwork and lunging with Sully – which lets face it, is BOTH of our weak points and still needs consistent, perpetual work. Sully is sneaky on the ground and tests you every second like a toddler, and in my last session was feeling his oats (love how that isn’t even a cliche here) and tried to take off several times on the line despite dressing him up in a surcingle and side reins (as our trainer says, he is not allowed to lunge naked for at least ten more years, he just can’t handle it). By the end of the session I was feeling pretty proud of how well I was reading him and could catch him before he revved up, but I lost my nerve asking him to canter to the left and he popped his shoulder to the outside track, swung his hind in and hauled his ass bronc bucking to the other end of the arena, taking a few layers of my palm skin with him. This is exactly what happened when I was loading him to trailer him to the trainer’s place to begin with – so when it happens again I let my emotions take over. Luckily this is why I am doing these sessions, so that the big bad trainer with no emotional attachment to his outbursts can step in, find the solution, and then I can get back at it with my nerves in check. She showed me how she will use the line against her hip as extra leverage when he is getting like this, and when he wants to run – MAKE him run until it’s your idea to run and it’s your idea to stop. And if push comes to shove, attaching the line to or through his bit is ok – with the caveat that you use it sparingly (aka in that session it was a needed last resort for him not to pull me over) and correctly (I did a little give and take at the trot to tell him ‘hey, I’m on your mouth now’ – and that give and take was to continue throughout the canter as well, you never haul on his mouth). When it was back to my turn, I was super sheepish about asking for canter (as my hand was still burning from the last attempt) and muttered about my nervousness, and she made the point: “why be nervous? So he gets away from you. This is where he is getting you. Don’t let it end like that.” And so I didn’t, and we ended with the most lovely canter transition I have gotten on the lunge to date. 🙌🏻

I am getting off track slightly – but back to it, this next month will be a few more ground sessions with Sully, then one or two in the saddle sessions, then it will be time to move him home.

Here is where he will be getting one week of slow down that I always give him when we move. I will still want to get in three or four light sessions of heeding and lunging work to keep his brain (and mine) in the zone of RESPECT. Then it’s go time… but not until I address the sticky right stifle.

The sticky weak stifles were addressed when I first brought him home (June 2015) and my vet said something like “I don’t love his right stifle”, but I was more concerned at the time with his daily (mis)(baby)behavior and his winging right front leg to worry about something simply being weak. I thought okay… it will strengthen with time. It was readdressed when I dragged him out of full training the first time for weird behavior and kicking out while lunging (Oct 2015) and we injected both stifles for comfort, began doing lots of straight lines and poles, and also did a round of estrone injections in the hopes of tightening the ligaments surrounding the joint. We saw improvement after a few months and also identified ulcers as the main issue – so once again, sticky stifle on the back burner. Clearly a strength issue. Don’t freak out Emily… no, now stop it.

Come January of this year, he is back in training after six months of feralness post my accident and throughout my pregnancy. We get another “I don’t know what that right stifle thinks it’s doing” comment from our trainer. This time, I do freak out (hello hormones, also hello common theme). We add weekly bodywork to his program and this has helped straighten his front end and give him relief as he strengthened and did some serious muscle building, but we still have a lagging right rear that is noticeable by the trained eye (aka, I don’t reaaally see it, he isn’t lame, but on a circle yes I can see his tries to throw his back end out. I’d say it falls into the category of “gait abnormality”). Ok, so I think it’s time to stop wondering and get to diagnosing. It isn’t a real issue now, but if I plan to ask more of him, I want to know if he can hold up or what we can do to help him hold up as we add jumping back into the mix.

So to summarize,

July – ✔️more ground sessions ✔️in saddle sessions ✔️move Sully home

August – ✔️week of settling time ✔️lameness eval with possible diagnostics (xray, ultrasound, blocking) and maybe acupuncture or chiro adjustments added to his program ✔️gametime (WOO) aka, we set his fitness program into motion by mid-August to continue strengthening, increase his endurance, and begin to prepare for fall/winter…

Oct/Nov/Dec – ✔️attend twice monthly lessons @trainer’s place ✔️attend one clinic ✔️attend one show

The real test is balancing these goals with a newborn. Drumroll… caaaan she do it?

(Yes she damn well can)

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