Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The $1 Horse and the Mystery Disease: One Rider's Journey to the US Dressage Finals

Jennifer Truett and her horses, Sunset N and Lafayette HQ, will be competing at the US Dressage Finals. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Truett.

By Jennifer Truett

Wow! It's really real! I just got my ride times and am very excited, a little nervous, and in great anticipation for what's about to happen in Kentucky. 

I'm Jennifer Truett, and I was asked by USDF to blog about my experience preparing for and competing at the US Dressage Finals, presented by Adequan. I jumped at the chance to share my journey. 

I am the owner (along with my amazing hubby, Lenny) and head trainer of Dancing Horse Farm in Lebanon, Ohio. We teach not only dressage but also eventing, hunter/jumper, sidesaddle, and skills to better communicate with and understand horses through groundwork. We have a very active educational calendar, with clinics given by my coaches Heather Blitz and Mary Wanless, and our horsemanship expert, Suzy Fitzsimmons. We are active supporters of USDF's educational programs, organizing and hosting both the "L" program and Instructor Certification Programs.

My approach to training horses and people is different than most. Developing correct biomechanics and trust in the relationship is more important to me than doing movements. I have a very holistic approach to training both horses and people, always considering mind and body when making decisions. 

I specialize in identifying and changing unhealthy, asymmetrical, habitual patterns in horses and humans, which dramatically improves the way they move both in and out of the arena. I have helped many riders suffering from back pain to find relief and ride virtually pain-free. I have also helped people to overcome paralyzing fear issues and become happy, bold, and confident riders.

Two of my horses were purchased for $1 each because their breeders had no hope of finding them homes. One had a completely atrophied right shoulder and went on to compete at Third Level level before sadly succumbing to laminitis brought on from Potomac Horse Fever. The other is one of my current mounts, Lafayette HQ, a 2002 Hanoverian gelding. After a tragic run-in with a manure spreader that longitudinally fractured his cannon bone as a four-year-old, "Taffy" was to be put down had I not chosen to give him a chance. I’m happy to report that, four years after entering my life, he has steadily climbed through the levels. He is now competing successfully at Fourth Level and will likely be ready for Prix St. Georges next spring. If you'd like to learn more about his rehab process, follow this link.

I teach many clinics throughout the year and enjoy working with riders and horses of every level. I have many clients who aren’t at all interested in showing and instead focus their energies on becoming better horsemen. I believe that every rider deserves to learn how to "speak horse” through biomechanics and empathy to improve their relationship with their horses.

Well, now that you know a little more about me, my farm, my horses, and my teaching/training philosophies, I'll share with you how my preparations are coming along for Nationals. Taffy is totally in "coast" mode. He's really ready. He feels strong, confident, and happy. We stopped schooling PSG-level requirements last week to drop back to doing Third and Fourth. His flying changes have been the hardest movement for him to figure out. We've spent the past year and a half working on them. We used to be able to clear an invisible three-foot jump during a change, and there were many times that jumping the invisible fence was following by a massive buck and bolt! In fact, even at our shows this May, we still didn't have it together enough to get through a test without a runaway gallop at some point after a change. Taffy finally got the right-to-left change figured out about midsummer, and then the left-to-right change one week before the Region 2 Championships! YAY! He ended this year ranked ninth in the Third Level Horse of the Year standings! Pretty good for not really having his changes until about a month ago. ;-)

Sunset N, however, is not in coast mode, as much as I would love for him to be. Three weeks ago, my 2006 Danish Warmblood gelding was going the best he ever has, even maintaining international-quality gaits. But then he slipped into a bit of a slump. We trail-rode and played games on the ground, but nothing seemed to help. Since we've been through this before and have never gotten to the bottom of it, I decided to get him thoroughly checked out to try to figure out what was wrong. We went to Michigan State University and were incredibly fortunate to have Drs. Hal Schott and Duncan Peters co-evaluate him. They determined that Sunset is perfectly sound, not neurologic, with totally normal blood chemistry and neck x -rays and ultrasounds. We decided to do a spinal tap and draw blood to see if he might have antibodies in his blood for EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis), even though he was not neurologic.

Sunset's spinal tap and blood results were positive from the MSU lab; but samples were also sent off to five other labs across the country, and all came back negative. So we were left with no more answers than we came in with. Both vets were clearly frustrated by this mystery, since we all wanted to find an answer. They recommended that I go ahead and start him on Marquis and do a slight shoeing change and see what happens. 

Within a couple days of starting the Marquis, Sunset's body started feeling totally different in a good way--much stronger and coordinated in his back and hind legs. Unfortunately, the day after our trip, I noticed that he wouldn't turn his neck much at all or flex his chin toward his chest. He wound up with a very sore neck from a reaction to the spinal tap that has gone on for the past two weeks. With lots of carrot stretches, massages, hot compresses, light exercise, and love, finally I am happy to report that his neck is back to 90 percent of normal and he worked at 80 percent of normal! Just a couple of days ago, I thought there was no way he was going to make it to Nationals, but now I think he will!

Today Sunset was happy, playful, supple, and eager again in his work. I will not ever force a horse to work, and it broke my heart to see him in so much pain, so I am overjoyed to see him coming back to his big ham personality again. 

Thanks for joining me during this chapter of our journey!


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