So, it’s been 14 days since we started treating Stella for ulcers. If you remember from my last post, we were hoping to see a little improvement by day 3, and real improvement by day 5. You can imagine my disappointment when, on day 3, there was no improvement whatsoever. Day 4? About the same. Day 5 brought a pony who was still too sensitive to be groomed, and couldn’t even tolerate being in the indoor arena, let alone doing any work (her first trip back into the arena began with a series of rears, and when I let her off the leadline to see if she would play a little bit, she stood dejectedly by the door with her head down). I was just about to give up hope.
Then, on day 6, something changed. Nothing big. Nothing that anyone else would even really notice. On day 6, when I went out to her paddock to bring her in, she came over to the gate to greet me. Which she hadn’t done in… well… ever.
Since then, there have been some signals (obvious and not-so-obvious) that she’s on the mend. She’s a little bit of a happier pony these days. She likes to cuddle with me in her stall. She wraps her head and neck around me, like she’s giving me a hug. She seems happy to see me. She’s less reactive to every. single. thing. (although she still has moments where she seems very nervous in her stall, or coming in from the paddock).
In the arena, she’s coming along. We “work” her about every second day (and by “work” I mean a combination of free lungeing, lungeing and ground work, in a halter or her bridle, without a saddle). She’s been pretty tricky to bring along. Her first instinct is still to go up on her hind legs, although now that really only happens right at the beginning of a lungeing session, and I don’t think it’s pain related, because once she gets going, she seems pretty happy to keep going.
Her stride has improved, and is almost back to where it was when I first got her. She stretches her head and neck down a lot, and really starts to relax after she’s been working for a few minutes. If you didn’t know something was wrong, well, you’d never know something is wrong. The only real left-over from the stilted, painful ‘ulcer-trot’ is that she never really relaxes her tail. During the worst of the ulcer pain, she held her tail out stiffly and cocked off to the right. Now it’s straighter, but it’s taking a while for her to relax it, and it doesn’t really “swing” the way it used to.
Of course, it’s very early days yet. We’re only at day 14 of treatment, and my guess is that it’s going to take at least the full 28 days (if not more) to get this ulcer gone. Which makes me think it’s a bad one, and that it’s been there for awhile. I’m not even thinking about riding her at this point. Heck, I’m not even thinking about putting a saddle on her. I refuse to do that until I am relatively certain that the pain is gone.
The thing that matters most (scratch that. The only thing that matters) is getting this pony pain-free. The difference in demeanour between ulcer-pony and non-ulcer-pony would break your heart. For her to go from a pony who was standing at the back of her stall shaking with nervousness, to the sweet, loving, giving-me-a-hug pony that she is now… well, like I said, the only thing that matters is getting pain-free.
A couple of things I’ve learned from this whole blasted experience:
1. You can have all the big plans you want, but in the end, you need to do what’s best for the horse. Period. I will never allow this pony to be in a position ever again where she is stressed to the point that it threatens her well-being. Her entire life, and all of my plans for her will now revolve around her being happy and healthy. She is too important to me to have it any other way.
2. Always look for a physical problem before you assume something is behavioural. It really worries me to think of all the horses out there who have been labelled “bad”, but are probably just in pain. Horses are very good at telling us that something is wrong. We just really need to learn how to listen.
3. Young horses need exposure. If I ever breed Stella, her baby will be exposed to everything under the sun, right from the start of his life. He’ll learn to go on trailers and walk over tarps and play games. He’ll learn that going somewhere new is a normal part of life. He’ll learn that there’s a nice, big, fun, beautiful world outside his pasture fence, and that it’s really nothing to worry about.
I know we’re not out of the woods yet with Stella. And even once the physical pain is gone, there will be a whole lot of re-training that has to happen to get her back on the right track. Unfortunately her tendency to get a little light in the front end has gotten waaaaaaaay worse throughout this ordeal (she’d never done it under saddle before this, and now, standing up on her hind legs has become more of a first-resort than a last-resort for her).
So it’s back to basics for this pony. And once she’s pain free, we will start the long, slow process of starting over. I feel like having her trot quietly around on a lunge line under saddle will be the only true test that the ulcers are really gone. We’ve got a lot of work to do before we get there, especially when we’re now only two weeks into treatment.
But we will get there. And this pony will lead a calm, happy life. That is my promise to her.