Fifty days

That’s how long Stella was on GastroGard, being treated for gastric ulcers. Who knows how long it took for the ulcers to develop, but fifty days is how long it took to heal them. I gave her the last dose two days ago. Now I’m hoping against hope that we’re right, that the ulcers have healed, and that she is safe to come off the medication.

If you remember, Stella had been telling me for awhile that something was wrong. The quiet little indications turned to louder statements, and then, finally, she decided that if I wasn’t going to listen, she was going to have to shout. That was the day that, at the mounting block, she determined that the only way to make me listen was to rear, spin and buck until she got me off her back.

The long story of Stella’s medical rehab is well documented on this blog, but what I haven’t told you much about is her training rehab. See, if there’s one thing in the world that scares me, it’s a horse who rears when you’re trying to get on.

Leftover Fears

The first time I realized that you can get hurt riding horses was thanks to a horse that reared (violently) while I was mounting. I was seventeen years old, and I tried to get on that horse ten times before I realized that I was going to get hurt if I didn’t give up (and, in my defence, nobody before or after me was ever able to ride that horse either). Nonetheless, it’s the one fear I’ve never really gotten over.

So back on that horrible day in November when Stella decided enough was enough, you can imagine my complete and utter disappointment when my dream pony, for no apparent (at least at the time) reason, did the exact thing that scared me most. I was devastated. And I wasn’t sure if I would ever feel safe getting on my pony again.

training issues gastric ulcers horse

Taking a Step Back

I talked to my coach, Wylie, about it. We decided together that, until we figured out what had caused Stella’s meltdown, I was not to try to ride her again. While it pained me to think that Stella was injured or hurting in some way, I was a little relieved that I didn’t have to try to get back on her any time soon. Now we could focus on getting her better without worrying about getting on her back.

Once we felt pretty secure in the knowledge that the cause of the pain (and the behavioural issues) was gastric ulcers, and once the pain started to go away, we slowly returned to “work”. For the first two weeks, every second day, we did something that got Stella into the arena (the scene of the crime).

Some days we lunged with her bridle on, some days we just free lunged, and other days we put her in her rope halter and did ground work. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, because, at first, the mere act of going into the arena turned Stella into a rearing fool. We had to be very careful to get her working right away so her brain didn’t turn to thoughts of standing on her hing legs.

Our rehabbing plan derailed a little bit when, a couple of weeks in, she developed a stone bruise in one of her hooves, and had to rest for almost a week. Once she was sound again, we got right back to work.

A Turning Point

We didn’t want to try putting her saddle back on until we were sure she wasn’t in pain, but we did want to do it while she was still getting GastroGard (so we could be certain that any issues were behavioural/memory-based and not pain-related). We chose the week that we were switching over from full tubes to half tubes of the medication.

We began with just tacking her up in her stall, then untacking her, which didn’t seem to cause her any worry. Then, on about the fourth day, we went ahead and lunged her, with absolutely no issues at all. The difference between her lungeing before the GastroGard treatment, and after, spoke for itself.

I apologize for the poor video quality – our arena in the dead of winter isn’t optimal videography light!

Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway…

We continued with tacking her up and lungeing for another week. During this time, we also starting bringing her to the mounting block and having me stand on it. This is where the worst of the worst had happened, so it was encouraging to see that she didn’t have any left-over mounting block issues.

On the day she received her last dose of GastroGard, we did some “leaning” work at the mounting block, leaning over her, putting some weight on the saddle, wiggling around a bit. We received a lovely non-reaction for our troubles, so we figured it was now or never.

Yesterday, on her first day off medication, it was time to sit on her and take a few steps. I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit apprehensive. I knew this was the moment of truth.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.