10 Months Post-Surgery

Well, as you can tell my initial plans to document Fiona’s Kissing Spine journey here fell through the cracks. My last update was in May 2021 and I pretty much just explained that Fiona went in for surgery and laid out her rehab plan…so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do and I’m going to attempt that without writing a full on novel. Wish me luck and enjoy the read.

APRIL 2021 – 1 Month Post Surgery

Fiona’s stall rest was going well for the most part. I visited the barn daily to take her on hand walks. We started out at 10 minutes and worked our way up to 20 minutes. After the staples were removed from her incision site we started PEMF therapy on Fiona’s back 1x per week.

Close to the 30 day mark, just a few days shy of being able to go out into a small paddock, Fiona colicked. It was my first colic experience as a horse owner and it was terrifying. I’m so fortunate my friend was at the barn, caught the behavior, administered banamine ASAP, and got her walking until I got there. Luckily after a few hours Fiona was back to her normal self but I made the decision to leave her in the round pen rather than go back to a stall. Fiona is on field turnout 24/7 so being confined in a stall from the get-go was a worry of mine.

MAY 2021 2 Months Post Surgery

Fiona graduated from the round pen to a small paddock by herself. Her hand walks now included walking over ground poles for up to 20 minutes daily.

JUNE 2021 3 Months Post Surgery

Fiona is officially off stall rest / small pasture turnout and back out in the field with her pasture-mates. Her hand walks and ground poles have evolved to walking and trotting on the lunge line. I started off very slow to make sure she didn’t get too excited and full of herself but she surprised me and did super from the get go. We got the clear from our vet to use a surcingle with side reins to help encourage long and low trotting.

Fiona trotting on the lunge line with a surcingle and side reins.

JULY 2021 4 Months Post Surgery

Most of July continued the same except for the part when I sat on Fiona’s back for the first time since March, but I’ll get to that later. She continued to walk and trot on the lunge line but now with a saddle instead of a surcingle. I also started to take her to my dressage trainer (Jenn) who specializes in Swedish Long Lining. These sessions were so great for her and myself to learn and continue to build Fiona’s top line correctly.

A small portion of Fiona’s long lining session.

On July 16th, Fiona went back to the vet for a recheck exam. I was thrilled when she got a great report and shocked she got the clear to start under saddle work. I didn’t think I would be sitting on Fiona’s back until at least September so hearing that in JULY, only 4 months post surgery, I would be able to ride her again I was shocked to say the least.

Okay, onto the most exciting part of July. July 27th. I sat on Fiona’s back for the very first time since March 16th. I had so many emotions running through me but the most predominant one was excitement. Tuesday afternoon I logged off work a little early, hooked up the trailer, headed to the barn to get Fiona, and off we went to Jenn’s.

To make the experience as positive as I could, Jenn long lined Fiona just like she would on any other day. We wanted her working, using her body correctly, and most importantly we didn’t want her to be tense. At the end of her long lining session (which we cut a little short), it was time for me to get on. For everyone’s safety I didn’t want to put Fiona on a lunge line, lead line, or anything. If she was going to react I didn’t want anyone on the other end of a rope. Turns out the precaution was unnecessary, she stood like an angel for me to mount and didn’t walk on until told to do so. We kept this ride short, like 10 minutes short, and all we did was walk.

This was also my first official lesson with a dressage trainer so I was learning all the basics which I haven’t utilized in hunter/jumper land like letting my hips swing with her movement, half halting with my core, etc.

I couldn’t wipe the ridiculous smile off my face the whole time, I can’t even translate the pure joy and happiness I felt through words.

First ride under saddle since Fiona’s surgery in March.

AUGUST 2021 5 Months Post Surgery

For the month of August we worked on slowing incrementing our under saddle walk sessions and then started to incorporate a little bit of trot. Prior to each ride, Fiona would be lunged at the walk, trot, and canter to get her body warmed up. This slowly gets weaned away but I was in no rush and wanted to ensure Fiona was always comfortable rather than anticipating and potentially blowing up.

On August 9th we trotted under saddle for the first time. I’m not going to lie though, it wasn’t exactly pretty but it was something. She threw a few bucks but we are confident they were pain memory bucks and not “this hurts me” bucks. Something to note about Fiona – she is an extremely emotional horse who carries baggage. Her personality and the way she expressed things kept her from finding a forever home (that is until now). She learned to buck and act out until she scared her rider enough to get off and leave her be. Knowing what I know now, I believe those moments were her way of trying to communicate she was in pain.

First time trotting under saddle since surgery (August 9th).
Another trotting under saddle video – this was taken on August 20th.

SEPTEMBER 2021 6 Months Post Surgery

When I first started trotting Fiona under saddle I had trouble grasping the concept of “contact”. When Fiona would start reacting prior to surgery, we tried many different things to ease the reaction and get her focused again. The thing we found helped at the time was releasing contact altogether so when I started riding again taking and maintaining contact was something I needed to learn.

Fiona trotting under saddle 6 months post surgery – yes, it was pouring rain too, bad day to wear white, right?

In September we also started to introduce the canter. I felt like we were not only introducing it to Fiona for the first time but to me too. It felt like I forgot how to sit the canter. I didn’t know where my upper body should be, how to move with her movement, and keep her lifted through her back all at the same time. It’s been a re-learning process for both of us.

Fiona cantering under saddle 6 months post surgery.

OCTOBER 2021 7 Months Post Surgery

October continued mostly the same as September. Fiona was getting worked 4-5 days per week and each gait was still a work in progress to stay round, lifted through the back, and on the bit for the entire duration. I started to focus on our transitions a little more at this point as well. Going from the walk to trot Fiona would try to invert, throw her head up and pull herself into a trot rather than rounding over her back and pushing into the trot with her hind end. To this day I’m still working on this. (Sorry no riding videos this month).

NOVEMBER 2021 8 Months Post Surgery

Daylight savings really started to kick my butt in November. I mean who actually likes when it gets dark at 4pm?! Anyway, I started to incorporate some hill work into Fiona’s routine to help build muscle. We are fortunate enough to have acres of trails on the barn property so I started taking Fiona out to walk and trot the hills. It was her first time out there since March and she handled herself like a seasoned trail horse. I really couldn’t have been more thrilled. There was no funny business or worries the moving tree branches would come to eat us.

Fiona hacking out in the field for the first time post surgery. I think this is actually the first time ever she’s hacked in the field (rather than just walking trail rides) and she handled it like a pro.

DECEMBER 2021 9 Months Post Surgery

I wish I could say I rode a lot more in December since I had about 3 weeks off of work…but I didn’t. Between getting things wrapped up at work, my embroidery business, and the holidays things just weren’t aligning. Before the craziness got out of hand I took Fiona to Jenn’s to be long lined and it was an ok session in my opinion (on Fiona’s part). I told Jenn at the beginning I was struggling with Fiona’s canter because she kept falling on her inside shoulder rather than staying upright and balanced. It was evident on the long line that she was essentially pulling with her front end instead of pushing with her hind. Overall, there was never really a spectacular moment during this session but there also wasn’t any mind blowing on Fiona’s end which I’ll definitely take as a win.

I was also able to squeeze in a cavaletti clinic clinic early on in the month which I loved. It was such a great learning opportunity for both of us and the exercises we did were like nothing we’ve done before. This is a clinic that takes place monthly so I plan to attend as often as I can.

Fiona trying to find her feet over cavalettis on the long line.

JANUARY 2021 10 Months Post Surgery

Just when I thought we were going to have a mild winter, Mother Nature came to assure me she’s got a cold side to her. The barn I board at doesn’t have an indoor so we are at Mother Nature’s mercy when it comes to less than ideal weather…and that’s exactly what this month has been. Between freezing temperatures, snow, and ice I couldn’t catch a break. I finally did some searching and found an indoor arena less than 10 minutes away to rent by the hour. I’ve adventured there twice this month to get some saddle time in since our outdoor arena has been an ice skating rink. No joke, here’s proof.

The outdoor arena after a lovely snow and ice storm

With Mother Nature working against us, there hasn’t been a ton of progress this month. One of my friends so graciously tagged along on one of my indoor outings to take some video and I’m forever grateful she braved the cold for me! As you can see though, we still get the occasional buck under saddle but we work through it and move on like nothing happened. Patience is the game here.

Sharing this video because Fiona is still working through some pain memory and learned behaviors. She still throws a buck here and there but I do my best to encourage her to use her body properly and just move forward.
With the right encouragement and just moving forward she does relax to trot and canter without bucking.

On that note, I guess that’s a 10 month wrap-up in a mile long blog post. If you’ve stuck with me this far I wish I could actually give you a high five. I know this was A LOT but as I wrote this post it reminded me of how far Fiona has come in just 10 months. Don’t get me wrong, we are a long ways from being in a “good” spot and there’s always more work to be done but watching those first trotting under saddle videos compared to now, I think there’s definitely improvement. I’m so excited to see where 2022 takes us and I promise I’ll be more diligent about updating you guys here!

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