For those of you who do not know her, Cayin was the first foal born at Lazy Acres. She is out of my stallion (Royalty's Caleb) and my mare (Puttin' On The Ritz- aka Callie). Cayin has been my primary horse for many years now. She was raised in Natural Horsemanship. She has been to the Parelli Center in Florida and her resume includes everything from cow clinics with 5-Star Parelli instructor Dave Ellis to Dressage Naturally Clinics with Karen Rohlf. I have ridden her in at least 10 natural horsemanship clinics. She is a registered Pinto mare, who leads the herd here at the farm. Her nickname is "Queen" for a reason. She is complex; kid safe if she has a leader, and HOT HOT HOT by nature. She is smart, beautiful and powerful.
A year and a half after being started, her training was going really well. She was always in a hackamore and was starting bridless work. She was signed up to attend a cow clinic in PA in the Fall. Her dam was waiting for a farrier to come put on a lost shoe , so after her morning workout, I put her in a stall next to her Mom for the day. What happened next, no one will ever really know. It appears that a bear walked into the barn and Cayin tried to jump out of her stall. She was found hung by her hind quarters. She survived the emergency, with the help of the fire department, police and some great veterinary care.
In the weeks after the accident, her swelling went down and her wounds healed. Her right hind leg sustained the worst injury with the stifle joint being the most effected. The veterinarians used a multi-modal approach to treat her pain. Dr O'Donovan and Dr. Rose worked together on this case, and we knew that medically, we were doing everything we could. Our veterinarians told us that she was physically able to canter, yet she wouldn't under saddle. It became apparent that the stifle and the canter issue were a real problem.
We were already scheduled to ride in the cow clinic with Dave Ellis, so I sent him an e-mail explaining the situation. Did he have a suggestion? Should I switch horses? He got back to me and said bring her, we would see if we could get the canter over the five day clinic. True to his promise, we were successful and got canter during the clinic. I was thrilled, and knew we were on the right track!
Cayin understands her leads, but rarely could I get her on the right.....she would counter canter all day long! Worse than that, the counter canter was getting very strong and smooth! There were weeks that we did not get the right lead at all, she was a leftie. When we did get on the right, it was ugly. The hind quarters would fly around, she would kick out and buck. It wasn't fun to ride, but I was determined to fix it. We continued on with the veterinary care, assuming she had chronic pain.
I searched for a solution. I rode with some amazing natural horse trainers, attempting to fix this. I learned so many techniques for fixing canter issues....just not THIS canter issue. I would use the techniques successfully on other people's horses, but they never worked for Cayin. I was frustrated and had really exhausted all of my options in the natural horsemanship world. Was my horse a lost cause?
ALONG COMES KAREN:
I truly believe that it was divine intervention. I was introduced to a woman who would become a friend. She would introduce me to concepts that were counter to my education. She rides traditional, competitive dressage. An unlikely friendship began. I was learning about physical conditioning and strength training. Karen was able to share information with me in a way that I could hear it. (That's the miracle!)
Over time, Karen let me ride her horse, Adam. My goal was to learn about strength training and dressage as physical therapy from Adam and then apply that knowledge to Cayin. It wasn't that simple! I first had to learn to ride Adam....using skill sets I had not developed. Yes, I could ride a green broke colt in a halter, I could ride bareback and bridless....but I could not get Adam to believe I knew anything at all! None of that meant anything to him. Now I was twice as frustrated!
That's when Karen suggested I ride with an instructor who was coming to her barn, Ellen Miller.
EAST MEETS WEST:
Our worlds could not have been further apart. Our "camps" don't associate, and they often attack each other. We couldn't even communicate at first because we used the same term for different things. It was challenging, but the most important thing I have learned from natural horsemanship is to "ask a better question". My question was, is there a better way for my horse? The second thing I learned from natural horsemanship was; "make no excuses".
Before long, I trusted Ellen and explained that I was not studying with her to learn "dressage", I knew that my mare was breaking down....that the behavioral training wasn't working. The only solution that I thought would work was physical therapy through dressage training. I also was convinced I had to learn it on Adam and apply it on Cayin because she wasn't sound enough to allow me to "learn" on her. My underlying concern was would I be able to stay true to my values in this traditional setting? I believed that it would be nearly impossible to find a teacher who would value my horse above the sport. How would I know if Ellen was the real thing?
I drove to Burlington and took lessons. Very few people knew what I was doing. Thankfully, Don Jessop was my Natural Horsemanship instructor. He encouraged me to explore this option. He has done everything possible to support this journey for both Cayin and me. I had "traditional" equipment in my barn, but I hid it (or said it was Fawn's- SORRY Fawn!) I had to do the right thing for my horse, but there were going to be huge social implications. I was afraid to leave my friends and walk this path alone.
Ellen and I have worked hard to find a common language. We found language about riding and a common ground. Ultimately, that common ground is in our principles and our attitudes. We both value our horses and believe that it is our job to provide for them mentally, emotionally and physically. The journey has been difficult and rewarding simultaneously. The two worlds should compliment each other,....and I believe that that is what we have achieved. Now I ask myself "are these approaches really separate? Should they be?" I have a lot to say about that, but I'll save that post for another time; today is about Cayin.
I ride both Adam and Cayin with Ellen now. We had a very specific plan for developing the strength in Cayin's right stifle. I no longer hide ANY equipment or technique, I do what's best for my horse and don't apologize for that! I remind my students that it's not the equipment that is harmful in most cases, it's the incorrect use of the equipment. It's the lack of education which is harmful. If you don't like how you see a certain piece of equipment being used, search out someone who uses it correctly, and educate yourself.
The time had come to address the canter. Since July we have worked a plan to build muscle which would support that weak joint. On Halloween we asked for canter on each lead and got it with NO issues. For Cayin, it was pretty balanced and rhythmic. Over the last few weeks we have helped her gain endurance and improve the balance in the canter, it's been amazing to ride her! We have a long way to go, but we have officially fixed the broken right lead.
I'm 100% convinced that Cayin's behavior was caused by being out of balance and in pain. Behavioral training would not have sufficed in this case. She's strong now and getting stronger every day.
There was a time when her past and "what happened to her" were the story. Now the future is limitless! THANK YOU ELLEN MILLER!