For over a decade, Contigo was a well-known fixture of full time training in my hometown. Then suddenly, when he was fifteen years old, he suffered a severe but hard to diagnose soft tissue injury near the suspensory attachment. This injury was worrisome, as it was considered to be a possible career ender. Rather than take any chances, I took him to a rehab facility hundreds of miles away hoping he might heal and be able to return to full time training. My hopes were fulfilled, but only temporarily. This injury was the first injury in a series of painful, debilitating injuries that would ultimately change my perspective and approach to his health and wellness.
The second injury was a lesion in his sinus, leading to a difficult and uncertain surgery, which he narrowly survived. With the support of one of the surgeons involved, I suspected the lesion was caused by stress from incorrect training. This hunch led made me extra careful with him when I began bringing him back, but despite my efforts to keep him relaxed, he became tense and increasingly fractious again like he had in his past. Then suddenly he was lame. A full body examination brought with it a shocking diagnosis: Kissing Spine.
Kissing Spine is an injury of the back caused by ill-fitting saddles and incorrect training. It often takes years to develop pain and symptoms. Horses with Kissing Spine are known to have spent years traveling hollow. Kissing Spine is where the space between the dorsal spinous processes narrows, causing them to "kiss" and develop lesions. Looking back now, I suspect Contigo was traveling either neutral or hollow most of the time he was ridden since he four. The primary treatment prescribed by my vet at UC Davis for Kissing Spine was to round his back through daily active stretching. This would set him up to develop a long, strong, supple topline and the engagement he needed to travel without restraint in self carriage. This prescription was the only holistic, long term treatment plan for making and maintaining space between Contigo's impinging dorsal spinal processes. This treatment plan became the greatest challenge of my life. But a challenge my friend Contigo desperately needed me to meet. If it could be accomplished, I would accomplish it and in the process I'd give Contigo the respect he deserved, and his top line the correctly built muscling it needed, for the first time in his life.
At the time of his diagnosis, Contigo was sixteen years old, with a very stiff and atrophied back. He had all the odds stacked against him. And those odds became even greater when I decided to train him round myself. My inexperience dampened our situation. But this time around I wanted to do it myself. I knew Contigo and I had seen what worked and didn't with the professionals of our past. The difference this time was I was had the time and the love and the desperation to fill that gap. I knew I'd make mistakes, but I knew I could temper those by going as slow as I needed and I could count on myself to prioritize a stress free environment and relaxation. Then, with a plug into a group called Art2Ride, I turned to learning classical foundation training and used it to began my journey to train and ride round.