I still don’t know what’s the matter with Stella. But, to summarize from Part 1 of the post, the ways Stella tried to tell me something was wrong were vast and varied:
1. anxiety and nervousness on the cross ties, when she’s normally very quiet;
2. biting while I was brushing her sides;
3. increasing fussiness when being tacked up;
4. getting “stuck” at the mounting block – not wanting to walk on after I had mounted;
5. not wanting to stand still while I tightened her girth from the saddle;
6. and finally, on the night of my last ride, anxiety escalating to “naughtiness” at the mounting block.
I told all of this to our vet, Trevor, when he came out to see Stella on the Monday night after the rearing incident. As we stood in Stella’s stall talking about it, she was sweet and loving toward Trevor (as usual. Like I said, she’s the sweetest pony I know). But the moment he ran his hand over her girth area, she swung her head around, almost violently, as though to bite.
He felt every other inch of her body, palpating and manipulating her withers, spine, muscles along the back, her loins, her hindquarters, everywhere. There were no other places that caused her even to flinch. I was happy that we could rule out back pain, but as soon as he came back to the girth area, the violent head swing happened again. At least we had been able to narrow it down to where she was hurting. Now we just had to figure out why.
Trevor had a couple of ideas off the top of his head as to what it could be. Looking back on the events leading up to the incident, the first thing that came to mind was that this was pain associated with Stella being in heat. Now, I don’t know how many of you have mares, but those who do know that being in season can bring on some very odd behaviours in a mare, and some mares can have pretty painful heats. If Stella was experiencing some kind of ovarian pain, that could explain many of the symptoms she was showing – the increased anxiety/nervousness (which can accompany any kind of pain in a horse, really), the sensitivity in the belly/girth area, and the other, less obvious, symptoms, like making sour-puss faces at her best girlfriends.
Having said that, I hadn’t really seen any other signs of Stella being in heat. But, to be fair, I had now had her for almost five months, and I honestly hadn’t noticed so far when she had ever been in heat (and after all of my trials and tribulations with my other mare, Sunny, I had developed a pretty keen eye for a mare in season!).
Nonetheless, it was at least a place to start. We decided to put her on bute for four days. By the fifth day, one of two things will have happened – either the pain will have gone away on its own due to the fact that, if she started her heat the Thursday before (that’s when the worst of the symptoms started), she should be out of season by the coming Thursday, or, if it was a temporary issue, the bute should have taken the pain away. I was to continue working her (ground work and lungeing only, no saddle) for the next four days, and then on day 5, which would be the Friday, I was to try tacking her up to gauge her reaction to having the saddle put on and the girth tightened.
We did as instructed. I also started keeping a journal for Stella, to track her symptoms, and jot down notes about how she seemed on each day. If this issue was, in fact, being caused by painful heats, then I was going to need to know when she was due to come into season, so I would be able to plan her work schedule and her pain management around it.
On day 5 (Friday), we put on her saddle (click here to see the video). She seemed concerned, and a little anxious, but at least she didn’t try to leap around as I put it on. I was not convinced the pain was gone, and in fact her sides still seemed a little sensitive whenever I touched them. You can tell by the look on her face that she is not feeling comfortable about being tacked up.
Saturday and Sunday were spent at a groundwork and desensitization clinic (that’s a whole ‘nother blog post!), so it was Tuesday of week two before I tried tacking her up again. I actually started out without tack. I wanted to practice some things we’d learned over the weekend, and I wanted to gauge her demeanour in the ring without a saddle on first. So off we went with just a rope halter and lead. Stella was quiet, focused and attentive. No spooking, no shenanigans. It was a nice little schooling session, and had I left it there, I would have gone home thinking that there was some real improvement. But, of course, when you’re trying to test a theory, you have to follow through.
I took Stella back to her stall and started tacking her up. She was about the same as she had been on Friday. A little ouchy on her sides right behind her elbows, and a little anxious about what I was doing. I figured I was never going to get to the bottom of things until I pushed the envelope a little bit, so I decided to see how she looked on the lunge line. It was very obvious to me that having the saddle on was the issue:
Video 1: Stella lungeing without the saddle: click here
Video 2: Stella lungeing with the saddle: click here
My concern was not so much that she was blowing off some steam. My concern is the bucking. See, Stella doesn’t buck. And by that, I don’t mean Stella rarely bucks, or she doesn’t buck much. I mean she doesn’t buck. Ever.
The other thing about this (which the video doesn’t show) is the difference in her temperament between when she was in the ring without the saddle, and when she was in the ring with the saddle. She was immediately a little more anxious in the saddle. She was expecting it to hurt (and obviously it did, judging by the bucks).
So. Back to square one. This tells me loud and clear that the pain is still there, even after almost a week off, and four days of bute. I’m off to call the vet. I’ll keep you posted!
To be continued…