In my last post, our dear little Zipper was coming into training well, I was happy with our progress and excited to start the season. How typical of our dear fuzzy friends that they should hurt themselves just when all is going perfectly!
Here in Pennsylvania, we have a few weeks during the end of winter where the weather breaks and things begin to thaw. Horses want to run around in their fields, although the footing isn’t exactly ideal for such shenanigans. Zipper forgot about this, and around midday, my grandmother observed him playing with his field buddy LaGrange. He reared up towards his side, hung his leg over LaGrange’s back—and “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall!” Zipper’s pride and his bottom were both hurt.
Most field accidents we rarely see, and as caretakers, we try to put the pieces of the crimes together like forensic agents in an attempt to wrap our heads around their mysteries. This incident was obvious, and when we went to get him out of the field, he could barely lift his left hind leg; it was more like he was dragging it. I was completely gutted and was on the phone to our vet, Mary Griffen, DVM, right away.
It was quickly apparent to Mary that Zipper had pulled a muscle. There was no remarkable swelling the entire time Zipper was on stall rest. He was treated with muscle relaxants and some anti-inflammatories, as well as Back On Track blankets and wraps. In addition, Janet Graven of Motion Works Equine Therapy came out to treat him with an eye to speeding his recovery.
Owners Katie Sharp and Justin Nicholson are all too aware of the unforeseen setbacks that can occur with the training of horses, so they took Zipper’s accident in stride. We did, however, start thinking of Plan B. What if Zipper didn’t recover in time to train for the Retire Racehorse Makeover; who would replace him? Here at the Covert Farm was Katie and Justin’s recently retired Sheldon, who was also on stall rest after undergoing ankle surgery to remove chips incurred during his racing career. Sheldon’s “green light” for his return to training looked like a more manageable timeline than that of Zipper’s up-in-the-air muscle injury. It was agreed to start Sheldon into work the first of April.
While Zipper was on stall rest, we started him back on GastroGard to make sure his tummy wasn’t over-stressing. But to our surprise, Zipper seemed to know that he was hurt, and that he did need to rest. After a week, Mary came out to check on him and there was no improvement; again the following week, she checked and found only slight improvement. But by the third week, he was cleared for hand-walking in the indoor arena, and by week four, he was cleared for turnout, so long as he wasn’t playing.
What seemed like a potential letdown for several months turned into a distant memory as we started Zipper back in work. He was eager to have his job back, and who knows? He may have wanted to show Sheldon he was not giving him the limelight.
At the walk and trot, we started working over poles and preparing for jumping—mainly through mimicking timing to the poles as if they were jumps. We also worked on straightness to the “jumps” and after them. Since we had missed a lot of valuable training time, I want to make sure we didn’t push Zipper’s body in the recovery process; but we did push his brain to stay active and focus.
In the ring, Zipper is every bit of a competitor, and he took every day to learn and progress. As he slowly progressed, I handed the reins over to my mom Laura—who is visiting for a few months from New Hampshire—and let her work on his connection to the bit, the simple aids, his fitness, and his continued cavaletti pole work. When we felt he was ready, we started to work five to 10 minutes of cantering into our daily workouts—balanced, and even off of both leads. We knew that Zipper was ready to school over fences, and yes, I was even preparing for his first horse show in my mind.
The main reason I wanted to get Zipper off the farm to a show was that, looking back into his racing career and seeing 43 starts but not many placings, I was worried that he might be one of those horses that trains well in the morning but crumbles under the pressure. Sounds awful for me to think that negatively, but it’s my job to plan ahead and find our weak links so that we can train for them. Since Zipper had not shipped off of the farm since his arrival from the track nearly a year ago, I had planned a local outing that was a quick 20-minute ship to a farm called Fox Crossing for a schooling jumper show. They had cross-bar jumpers up to 1.05m, and I knew we would be able to slip Zipper into a comfortable, no-pressure spot.
The excitement for me was really to see how he handled the shipping, the waiting for his class, the schooling ring, and then to me, most importantly, how he mentally handled himself after his first class—because, quite honestly, I knew he could jump! The first of these was checked off of my list when we brought him off the trailer and he ate grass. Secondly, he was curious in the schooling ring; but that was mainly about the two small ponies that were going to be in the class with us (for the first time, he was not the smallest one in the ring). Lastly, he did exactly as I had dreamed. I was so absolutely proud of myself after the first class, when I knew we were going to be okay going forward through the rest of the year showing.
A huge weight felt like it had been lifted off of my shoulders, knowing that Zipper is very happy to do this job with me. As far as the actual show results went, we had a Blue Ribbon Clear Round in the first class, which was untimed but you had to jump clean. In the second class, we were 6th— and then he rallied with all of his training (up to that point), moving up to 3rd for the final class.
I was very proud of Zipper, and grateful for the group of people involved in getting us to the show ring after being nearly sidelined for a couple months. I’m so thankful to my mom for her tedious work in his physical rehab process, and I know when she leaves to go back home, there will most likely be tears, because he’s become one of her favorites.
Zipper is lucky to have his circle of influence keep growing. He will go back into training for several weeks before we look to find him another horse show, but we are happy to say that we are on a roll for RRP 2016!