Make no mistake-- I was very nervous. I worried about keeping track of all of the time on the four phases, although my experience at Hagyard Midsouth last fall was very helpful in that regard. Another thing that I was nervous about, of course, was steeplechase. Even though I had already done one, I wondered if I could go fast enough again, and whether I could balance properly before the jumps if I did go fast enough. Oh, and there was the grown-up version of the Pan Am Bank that was on Phase D. It was a double step down, followed by two strides to a tall brush. I hadn't jumped anything like that before!
Phase A started with a bang, because just about two minutes out from my start time, a loose Prelim horse came barreling down the road toward us. Luckily, a passer-by was able to take a gentle hold of Taco's bridle for me, and kept us from wheeling around and bouncing too high in the air as the loose horse passed. You can't tell on the video, but this really pumped Taco up. Where we had been a little bit behind on the first two kilometers at Midsouth, we were up on the time this time, thanks to a little extra zing in Taco's step! We arrived at steeplechase about two minutes ahead, which was perfect. As I stood there, Mary and some other well-wishers greeted me and reassured me that I was going to have a great time.
Then we were off!! We got up to speed by the first turn, and then I began to bring him back slightly with my seat and upper body and wait for the base of the big brush fence. 1...2...3...4 strides and we were over! It felt great! A grin broke out on my face. Same thing for the next two down the other side, and then we were around the first turn again and on our second lap. Taco was in what I can best describe as "the groove". He just found the ropes on the inside and galloped like he could hear a metronome. We met each fence out of stride and what felt like perfect synchrony. I can't think of a more pleasurable experience that I've had on the back of a horse. It was all over too soon and we loped off the track, triumphant.
Carol checked for all four shoes and we were off on Phase C. Because of the heat, the officials had put a mandatory ten-minute hold (which was different from the 10-minute box before D), about halfway through Phase C. Carol and a friend, Lynn, met us there with water for both of us and a bath for Taco. Then we continued on through the rest of C to the real 10-minute box. Carol, Mary, and Pam, another friend, were a splendid pit crew. Morley, the volunteer who was my timer, kept us on track. I took of my helmet, had a drink, and went over the Phase D plan with Mary. She warned me that Taco was now used to jumping out of a bigger stride and that I would have to be quite assertive about asking him to come back on cross country. Then we trotted to the start box, the starter counted us down, and we were off!
He felt great out of the box, looking for the fences and up in the bridle. The paths at the Hoosier Horse Park can be quite twisty and turny, and I worried about hitting trees. But Mary had reminded me that it is Taco's job to avoid trees, and my job to tell him where I wanted to go. When I jumped the third fence, a brush right before a 90-degree right turn into a path, Taco simply followed my eye and glided through the turn, and I knew we were on the same page. We bounded up the Pan Am Bank and skipped off the two drops and over the brush. That was easy! Over a palisade, through the coffin, then a long gallop to the trakehner and the water, a down bank in with a bending line after the bank out. Another long gallop to a three stride line, a cabin to a corner, nestled into the tree line, and then a series of four gallop fences down the long stretch of prairie. This is where Taco got a little bit cheeky and decided that we didn't have to slow down. But he was more respectful after he found himself having to put in a short quick one at a rolltop! He became easier to rate after that. Through another S-curve that I just steered him through with my eyes, over a maximum two-stride combination, over another couple of rolltops, and we were home! We had made the time (actually, I was surprised to see that we were 35 seconds fast), and he had been as game as I have ever felt him. What a horse! What a ride!
Here is a video montage of a few moments that Carol was able to get on video. It's the start of A, me galloping by on B, and the first fence of D.
Then it was back to the D box, which was the same as the 10-minute box, where we swing into action cooling Taco down. He was released back to the barn on his first recheck, and Carol walked him back while Mary ran me and our equipment back in her Mule.
Taco relaxing in the D Box (links to photos by Amy Lopez)
Carol headed home with the champion
We washed him when we got back to the stall, iced his legs, and then let him take a well-deserved nap under his fan.
We were double clear, and had hung on to first place.
After a few hours of quiet time, I pulled Taco out of his stall and we went for a walk. We ran into a fellow competitor, and I asked her to watch him jog. I could hear some unevenness in his gait, and she said he looked a little stiff. Hmmm. No obvious swelling anywhere, or soreness when I palpated his back and hindquarters, which might have indicated hock soreness. I decided to proceed as if his hocks and feet might be sore since the ground had been a little hard. I poulticed all four legs, packed his front feet with Magic Cushion, and re-iced his hocks a couple of times, plus administered a gram of bute (legal under USEF rules). I went to bed, hoping that some rest and the various treatments would find him feeling well in the morning.
I iced his feet and hocks while he ate his breakfast the next morning, and then put him on the lunge line. He looked OK, I thought. After some thought and consultations with people I trusted, I decided to present him at the jog. I strongly suspected I was dealing with mild stiffness from arthritis. When I did jog, the ground jury held us for reinspection. The treating veterinarian, Scott Thompson of Jannsen Veterinary Clinic in Sheridan, Indiana, conducted a short exam, and this is where everything changed. Scott palpated his left hind tendons and zeroed in on a spot just below his hock. Taco has had a small thickening there for as long as I can remember, and because it was familiar, I had not probed it further. Now Scott was getting a reaction that most definitely was different from the one he got when he palpated the right leg. Also, a low flexion test made Taco more lame, but one that flexed the hock made no change. After he finished his exam, Scott looked me in the eye and told me that he thought Taco had sustained some kind of injury that would likely be harmed by proceeding on to the show jumping.
My choice was clear. I informed the ground jury that I was withdrawing. I was incredibly disappointed and worried about the injury, and upset that I had missed it myself, but very glad to have such a proficient veterinarian give me his honest opinion. Knowing what I know now, Scott's and the ground jury's astute assessments prevented me from making the injury worse and ensured that I got immediate treatment for it. I walked Taco back to his stall, where one of the veterinary delegates, Lani Gilliam, immediately treated him with a laser. Then we iced the leg and Scott applied a gelcast for the trailer ride home.
I must say that everyone at the competition was incredibly supportive. The T3D and N3D organizer, Lee Ann Zobbe, stayed with me during Scott's exam and gave me a hug when I had to withdraw. Another veterinary delegate, Katy Ivester, sought me out once we were back at the stall and hugged me, too. The other competitors, from four-star veterans to fellow ammy riders, were very sympathetic. And I was beyond honored to receive the Five Star Tack Sportsmanship Award, a gorgeous leather halter, at the T3D awards ceremony. I literally was rendered speechless when they announced my name. Taco also won the OTTB Dressage award from Friends of Ferdinand, of which I was very proud.
We got back to Taco's barn early that evening, but his trailer travel was to continue the next day. We hauled up to our local clinic for an ultrasound around lunchtime on Monday. Tony Kimmons, our wonderful vet, unwrapped the big wrap and gelcast to reveal a more swollen tendon. Now it truly looked like something was wrong. Flexion tests revealed no real change from baseline, so he moved on quickly to the ultrasound. As he scanned, the suspensory and Deep Digital Flexor Tendon looked fine, thankfully. But there was a 4mm core lesion in his Superficial Digital Flexor Tendon, about 5% of the total area of a cross section. This injury has a relatively good prognosis, but it still means 4-8 weeks of stall rest, followed by a rehab that will last until at least November.
So our season is over, but Taco should return to competition next year. Right now he is getting iced and receiving NSAIDs, and hand-walking with a wonderful team of friends at Panther Springs Farm while I am traveling to a conference and visiting family. Next week, we'll make a trip to Hagyard in Lexington, Kentucky for a consultation about any further treatment options that might make sense. Annika, Taco's old owner, is sending us a laser to use. And we have a local veterinarian who specializes in equine rehab, Tammy Perkins, working with us.
I mused out loud the other day, "sometimes the good that comes out of a bad situation is that you realize just how many people care." The more I think about this, the more I believe it to be true. It was heartbreaking to withdraw from the competition, and to learn that my horse had a season-ending injury. But the caring from friends has been heartwarming. Thank you all, from Taco, Carol, and me.
|The highlight of Taco's day, twice a day (photo by Kate Watkins)|