Friday, December 01, 2006

When a Pain is Not a Pain

A face only a mother could love? Normally Zipper doesn't look like this. If he did, I'd probably have given up riding him years ago. Normally he's a cute and curious guy with tons of personality and a great sense of humor. Normally. Unfortunately he's also normally not a stoic--not by any stretch of the imagination. He's not Rat, who will put up with knives sticking into his head if he's working a jump course for his beloved Jessica. He's not even Dolly, who may fuss a bit, but is always a lady. He's Zip, and he wants me to know something that I'm just not getting.

Whatever's got his goat this month, however, is not only driving him crazy, it's got me on the edge too. What makes a horse suddenly become flinchy, irritable, and generally uncooperative under saddle but perfect from the ground? Pain seems the best bet. I'm cranky when I hurt. He's allowed to be that way too.

So last week, after a day or two of his shenanigans, I called the vet out for a lameness exam on the Zipperdoodle. Naturally, he was on his worst behavior. The vet has always been Public Enemy Number One, no matter which vet or under what circumstances. Shots are fine within reason, but anything else requires anesthesia as far as this horse is concerned.

After much palpation, examination, and frustration, and one mad dash back to the safety of his stall that earned Zip a chain over his noseband, the vet asked to see me ride. For once I was more distracted by the problem at hand than concerned about my riding. Zip did his new fandango, kicking at something real or imagined on his right side, but eventually settled down and did as he was asked.

Long story short, discussion ensued followed by a few days of Bute, then some experimenting with tack and methods. Not once through all of that did Zip even pretend to dislike the process or show any anger or irritation at me. If anything, he was delighted to show me anything I wanted to see by way of twitching and gyration. But in the end he always worked well and kissed me goodbye in the pasture after each round.

So, at what point does a rider decide when the pain is real and when it's simply attitude. The consensus on Zip right now is that his attitude is as big as his butt, and I should treat the problem as a training issue. I'm not sure. I'm not a talented communicator like Ginny or a vet like Chris, but I know my Zip. I know the look in his eye and the tilt of his head, and I'm not seeing the "gotcha!" that usually follows the successful completion of one of his scams. He's spending too much time apologizing to me for his craziness. . . and that's not normal. Nor is the fact that he stood like a soldier for the farrier this week. Not one unexpected stretch, not one "I'd rather stand over here, thank you", not normal at all.

We're both taking a week or so off. That's what winter in the Northeast is for--a change of pace. Today I brushed his "sore" spot, and he threatened me briefly. Habit? I don't know, but my gut says no. At some point I will, hopefully, figure out the message I'm missing, and all will be well again. This isn't the first time we've been through something like this, though it's the first time he's been the Rebel Without a Cause.

Next week I'll try again. Or the week after. Or whenever I come up with a new idea, which could be sometime next summer.

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