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One ERRI rehab's road to recovery leads to Sagamore
by Laura W. Baier
I never thought I would like dressage.
When I was little and equestrian competitions would come on TV, I would sit through hours of stadium jumping but when dressage came on, I'd go to the barn and practice jumping.
Imagine my surprise when I found myself rehabilitating Night, a 15-year-old former dressage horse who had undergone meniscus surgery in 1999 and had come to ERRI to recover. He was just beginning a long process of rehabilitation when I came to ERRI in the spring of 2000.
As I mucked stalls and helped with barn chores, I watched him quietly stand in his stall waiting for whatever treat someone might offer him but never asking or begging for a morsel.
Rhonda Rollins, ERRI's co-founder and barn manager, began walking him under saddle a couple times a week that spring. He couldn't handle much. He had dropped a lot of weight to recover from the surgery, and he was slow to put it back on. His muscles, especially in his hind-end where the surgery was performed, were extremely weak.
Finding his attitude gentle and accepting, and loving a hard-luck case, I asked Rhonda if I could take the burden of his exercise off her busy schedule. She agreed, hoping also that his recovery might benefit from a "smaller" rider.
This is where our adventure began and where I began to get a taste of dressage. As we worked our way from 20-min. walks, to 30-min. walk/trots, to 40-min. walk/trot/canters, I found that despite the stiffness of his healing muscles Night would ask me to help him balance. I was baffled.
I had ridden for 14 years at that time, mostly on hunter/jumpers and pleasure horses. I had never been taught much about balancing. I didn't know what to do with Night. Debbie helped me understand what balancing felt like. And after a few lessons, I could pull Night nicely into balance and, if I was lucky, we might go half-way around the ring before I'd lose it. That is, if I was lucky.
We practiced and practiced. All the while, Night gained weight, muscle and pep. The balanced foundation of dressage was helping him heal.
I began to think about taking his rehab to the next level. I had been told that in Night's "previous life" before his injury, he was an advanced dressage mount. Could he return to partial capacity again?
When Tracey Hurline announced the Dressage Schooling Show to benefit ERRI at Sagamore Farm, I knew we had to try. I had to see if a judge who didn't know about Night's past could tell what he'd been through.
We entered in the introductory class. I thought I would die when we finally went down the center-line toward the judge on that blustery October morning. I was sure I would forget the test, but Night carried me through until the final salute.
Now, mind you, we weren't exactly doing dressage. Night and I hadn't worked much without the martingale and in his freedom he held his head high and mighty and wouldn't listen to a cue I gave. I like to think he was so proud he had made it back to the show ring that he couldn't help himself.
We pinned fifth and I've never been prouder. No one asked what had happened to him, no one could tell I guess. That was the best reward I could have hoped for that day.
While the extents of Night's abilities are still unclear, what is clear is that he truly enjoyed himself in that ring on that nippy fall morning, as did I. Dressage. Who would've known?